Sunday, December 6, 2009

St Nicholas Feast Day

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas and I would be remiss if I did not give a nod to the great man, who other than the obvious saintly attributes, gave us today's santa!

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas was born in 260AD in Patara, a coastal town in what is now Turkey. The poor knew him throughout the land for his generosity, his love for children and being associated with ships, the sea and sailors. He was eventually consecrated Bishop of Myra, just miles from his hometown.

Our western tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas originates with the beloved saint. Many Christian churches and many countries observe December 6th, his feast day, with great celebrations, processions, services and gift giving.

Many legends surround his life. During the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs but he never forsook his faith. The new Emperor Constantine eventually released him. Tradition has it that Bishop Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 with many other bishops, a meeting that produced what we today call "The Nicene Creed".

Traditional image of Bari, Italy

Traditional image from Bari, Italy

Images of St Nicholas in paintings, icons, statues, collectibles and stained glass often show him alongside three young men in a barrel that he brought back to life after an innkeeper murdered them. He is almost always seen with three bags or balls as well, symbolising the three bags of gold he tossed through the chimney of the home of a poor man in his village for the daughters' dowry, so they would not be sold as slaves. Thus he is also seen as the "gift-giver". A ship and the sea are also common symbols of the saint. Western and Eastern depictions of Blessed Nicholas differ in style and costume.

Saint Nicholas is a patron of many places and people. He closely associated with Russia, Greece, Holland, Austria, Belgium, Aberdeen and New York. Pawnbrokers, travellers, unwed persons, children, sailors and many others claim a special relationship to the saintly figure. Many churches are dedicated to him as well, in England, over 400. Nicholas is third most popular subject of icons in the church, with only Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary having more representations.

The beloved bishop died in 343AD and his body buried in the cathedral at Myra.

However, in 1087, Italian sailors who were fearful that the bones would be desecrated or forgotten by the armies invading the country at that time removed the remains of his bones, called relics. They were taken to Bari, Italy, where they rest in a major basilica dedicated to the saint. Special celebrations are held on May 9 each year on the Bari coast to mark the date of the "translation" of the relics.

The name St Nicholas lives in the hearts of people all over the world, young and old alike. His faith and his actions make remembering him important even in our day. He is our Santa Claus and Father Christmas, and we must remind people today of this fact. To this very day St Nicholas (Sinterklaas) arrives in Holland each November, dressed in a Christian Bishop's vestments, and rides through the streets to the enjoyment of thousands of onlookers, to begin his investigation into the behaviour of the children.

Such customs are being revived in Christian communities all over the world.

St Nicholas Day falls in the season of Advent and with the tradition of his bearing gifts, he became associated with Christmas as well.


There was a good bishop who lived long ago

His memory is glorious, His legends are bold

We call him St Nicholas, a servant of Christ

Who loved little children and taught what was right

He is Father Christmas and Santa Claus too

He helped many people, the stories are true

At Christmas he calls to us, both young and old

To see that the story of Jesus is told

The gifts that he brings us are signs of the love

That comes down at Christmas from heaven above

We see Mother Mary, the babe in the stall,

With Joseph, the wise men and shepherds and all

O blessed St Nik'las we hail you today

The patron of many, you show us the way

To be good and generous, to help those in need

To be kind to others in both word and deed

Suggested tune: ST DENIO (Welsh)


Good Saint Nicholas of Myra

deeds and legends tell his fame

Saintly bishop, friend of children

Bari pilgrims chant the name

Blessèd Nicholas, Blessèd Nicholas

He loved all in Jesus' name

Miracles and signs and wonders

he performed to praise the Lord

For a poor and weary people

source of care and joy outpoured

Sailors, nations, people thank him

for the message that he brought

Young and old now hail the memory

Of the lessons that he taught

May his ways of true devotion

guide us on our earthly way

Challenge us to be more like him

as Christ's gospel we obey

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

bind us in community

so that we with holy Nicholas

might eternal glory see

Tune: Regent Square/Westminster Abbey

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