Today marks marks the start of the festive season of Christmas and in the coming weeks many of us will be sending cards featuring a rotund bearded man dressed in a red suit. The image of Father Christmas seems to have been around forever but it is a lesser known fact that this character actually originated from the legend of St Nicholas.
As today is St Nicholas Day, in honour of this special saint, here are 8 things you may not know about this day and how his legend merged with that of the more familiar figure of Father Christmas:
– St Nicholas is known as The Bringer of Gifts.
– He was born in Patara, a land that is part of present-day Turkey around AD 280.
– His parents were very wealthy but died in an epidemic when he was still young. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering.
– One of the best known stories which surrounds Nicholas concerns that of a poor man who couldn’t afford a dowry for his daughters. Without this payment the daughters would not have been able to marry and would likely have ended up as prostitutes so Nicholas threw 3 bags of gold coins through his window overnight saving them from this fate. Many people believe that the three gold balls in pawn brokers’ windows symbolise the bags of coins and St Nicholas is still known as the Patron Saint of Pawn Brokers.
– St Nicholas is also the patron saint of sailors. According to legend when a ship full of wheat made port in his town, he asked the sailors to give half their supply so he could feed the poor, promising they’d still have the same amount in their stock. The sailors did as instructed, and as the story goes, they still had the same amount of wheat in their ship by the time they made port in Constantinople.
– Nicholas was known as a passionate and defiant defender of church doctrine during the “Great Persecution,” when Bibles were burnt and priests made to renounce Christianity or face execution. His defiance led to him spending many years in prison.
– After the reformation in the 16th century (separation of the Protestant and Catholic churches), the stories and traditions about St Nicholas became unpopular but someone still had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK and particularly in England, he became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’ – an old character from some stories/plays from the middle ages.
– St Nicholas Day is celebrated in many European countries today such as Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Children leave their shoes out overnight on 5th December and awaken to find them filled with presents the next day.
Below – Father Christmas unable to find his reindeer so having to get the bus instead!