Santa Claus and St Nicholas


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Old years have been – new years have been – and fleeted away, since the first brave Father Christmas came and caroll’d at the door.  He always found a cheerful cup and a jesting word to say, and a thousand fervent wishes – he deserves a thousand more.

The excerpt below is from the book – The Life Story of Father Christmas by Sarah A Tooley in the English Illustrated Magazine December 1905

The Good Bishop St Nicholas

Santa Claus began his career as the good Bishop St. Nicholas, and doubtless considers that he scores heavily over Father Christmas by having a recorded history.  St. Nicholas was born of wealthy parents, in the City of Patara, in Asia Minor, and gave evidence that he was not an ordinary child by standing upright in his bath, immediately after his birth. He appears to have known nothing of original sin, for such was his infantile piety, that on fast days he declined the natural nourishment offered by his mother.  Of course he entered the Church, and became a bishop.

For many years he ruled over the See of Myra, and by several miraculous deeds on behalf of young people, became known as the special benefactor of children. There are several versions of the famous miracle he performed in raising three boys to life.  One relates that a wealthy gentleman sent his two sons to Myra to pay their respects to the good Bishop Nicholas.  As the youths arrived late in the city they went to an inn for the night, intending to call on the bishop next morning.  During the night they were murdered by the landlord, in order to secure their belongings, and he concealed their bodies in a pickling tub.

St. Nicholas saw in a vision what had taken place, and, crozier in hand, went to the inn.  The landlord confessed his crime, and the bishop, on being shown the pickling tub, waved his hand over it, and the boys hopped out alive, none the worse for their adventure.

Although two boys are mentioned in this story, the representations of St. Nicholas performing the miracle invariably show three.  There is a picture over the altar of the Church of St. Nicholas, in Ghent, in which the bishop, in full robes, stands with uplifted forefinger beside a tub, in which the three boys, restored to life, are praising him with uplifted hands.  There is a similar representation in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

One of a more gruesome character appears in the Salisbury Missal of 1534, in which a butcher man is shown in the act of chopping the limb of one of the unfortunate boys, while under the table is seen the pickle tub, in which the three boys have been brought to life by St. Nicholas, who stands over them.  This latter picture illustrates another version of the legend which has been described in doggerel verse, and is the favourite with children.

Excerpt from the English Illustrated Magazine – 1905


Further Reading and External Links

The History of Santa Claus and Father Christmas