When you were a child, you may have set out cookies and milk for the jolly ol’ Saint Nick. Your parents may have spent the better part of your childhood years reminding you to behave so that you’d be rewarded with treats historically deposited from the rooftop via your chimney.
Later, your friends started telling you that the Easter Bunny’s act of hiding eggs was a hoax and that St. Nicholas was a myth. If you’re like me, you went crying to your parents only to have your fears confirmed — no magic bunny, no guy on the roof dropping pleasant rewards for good behavior.
I’m here to tell you: YOUR PARENTS LIED.
You may be sitting there reading this thinking, “Yes, Chris, we know. Our parents fessed-up and told us the whole Jolly Saint story was a fraud.” Well, THAT is the lie. Saint Nicholas is real; as are the tales of his rooftop gifting antics. However, the the bunny – that magic egg hiding hare – is total fiction.
As a current resident of Türkiye (Republic of Turkey), I’ve discovered the true origins of the beloved bearded man and his propensity for top-of-house philanthropy.
Long before he was sainted, Nicholas was born in Patara, a small coastal town along Mediterranean Sea in the Southwestern part of Lycia (now Turkey). Nicholas eventually became Bishop Nicholas of Myra, another town just up the coast of the Med (now called Demre, Turkey). Several years after Nicholas died, he was honored with the holy titles of Patron Saint of Sailors & Patron Saint of Children.
During his lifetime, Saint Nicholas’ family, like many Lycian households, had done quite well for themselves financially. St. Nick received a sizable inheritance from his parents and he lived life as a wealthy but humble man. Because he was a kind and benevolent man, he decided to give money to the city’s poor; however, he also desired to remain anonymous. So he decided to use his natural athleticism to his advantage, he gifted the needy with money by climbing up along rooflines and dropping coins into the chimneys of those less fortunate than himself. Beyond cash, he would also deliver gifts of nuts, fruits, and candies for children who were well mannered and well behaved.
One night when St. Nicholas was out delivering presents from the rooftops, someone from the neighborhood discovered him and revealed him as the secret gift-giver to the townsfolk.
Saint Nick was honored, posthumously, with an annual feast. The Feast of Saint Nicholas was celebrated on December 6. Coincidentally and several years later, another bishop declared that the Church would observe December 25 as the recognized day of Christ’s birth. The proximity of the dates to one another, and the good natured story associated with Saint Nicholas, created a fusing of the two celebrations.
So, parents, STOP lying to your children. Saint Nicholas is not a work of fiction or a symbolic marketing trope of the good life gifted to drinkers of Coca-Cola.
If you ever find yourself in the Republic of Turkey, you’ll find the ancient Byzantine architecture of the Church of St. Nicholas. Not just magnificent in architectural style, a significant symbol of the expansion of Christianity through the crossroads where East meets West.
I am still digging into the origins of the little elfin helpers; I’m guessing there will not be a follow-up blog extolling the discovery of flying reindeer.