June 19, 2017

#05-056: Christmas and St. Nick

polychrome statue of a man in bishop's clothing; at his feet is a wooden tub with three naked infants standing in it
St. Nicholas with the three babies he reassembled

Note: When we think of Christmas, we think of Santa Claus. But it wasn't always so! Meet Saint Nicholas and learn his story.

Get Ready: Do you think the idea of Santa Claus makes an important contribution to our culture? That is, is he a more positive influence or a more negative one?

Santa Claus (also called "Father Christmas") is perhaps one of the most recognizable figures from Western culture. He is known as a symbol of Christmas, virtually around the globe.

Yet, some may not realize that this connection is a very late one.

December 6 is "Saint Nicholas Day" or "The Feast of Saint Nicholas," commemorating a 3rd to 4th century Christian bishop. He lived in what is now Turkey, and was famous for his kindness, especially in the form of secret gift-giving. In addition to his love of children, he is considered the patron saint of sailors, merchants, and pawnbrokers, among others. His relics now rest in Bari, Italy.

There are many stories of his miracles. In one, an evil butcher killed three children and cut up their bodies, planning to sell them as ham. Nicholas prayed over them and they reassembled and came back to life!

In another example of helping young people--by secret giving--he threw bags of coins through a window at night to provide the dowry for three poor girls who wanted to marry.

Another story tells how Nicholas asked some sailors to donate some wheat from their ship. The load was meant to be sent to the emperor, so the sailors refused. But the saint promised there would be no punishment. They gave him enough wheat to last two years and, when they reached their destination, discovered the weight of their cargo was the same as before. This story, and another in which he calmed a storm and raised a dead sailor, are why Nicholas is the patron of sailors.

Saint Nicholas is very popular in Holland, where he is called "Sinterklaas," and when Dutch people came to New York, they brought their stories with them. There, centuries after their arrival, a professor wrote a poem called "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (see Lesson #08-024) accompanied by a drawing similar to our depictions of Santa Claus today. (These have been reinforced by artwork used to advertise Coca Cola!)

Eventually, the image--and the association with gift-giving--migrated to later in the month, and are now an intrinsic part of Christmas celebrations everywhere.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. butcher
  2. calmed
  3. dowry
  4. ham
  5. Holland
  6. intrinsic
  7. patron
  8. pawnbrokers
  9. recognizable
  10. relics

  1. the meat from a pig
  2. people who lend money on personal property
  3. money paid by a bride to her husband
  4. one who supports or protects something or someone
  5. belonging by its very nature
  6. bodily remains of a holy person
  7. easily identified
  8. one who kills animals and cuts them up
  9. The Netherlands
  10. made peaceful

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 19, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. j; 3. c; 4. a; 5. i; 6. e; 7. d; 8. b; 9. g; 10. f