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Today's Honorary Subscriber is Nicholas, the fourth-century
Christian saint and bishop of Myra in Asia Minor transformed by centuries of
legend into the jolly gift-giver known to us as Santa Claus.
Except for the fact that Nicholas was bishop of Myra (in present-day
Turkey) and died for his faith during the persecution of the Roman Emperor
Diocletian, little is actually known him. Legend has it that he was born of
wealthy parents and that after their death he devoted himself to works of
charity, giving his wealth to the poor. Many miracles were attributed to him
and in time he became a revered and popular saint.
His reputation for holiness and kindness was built up by numerous
stories, such as the time he brought three boys back to life after they were
killed by a wicked butcher, their bodies cut up and pickled. But the story
that most closely associates him with Christmas tells about three
poverty-stricken sisters whose father was going to sell them into
prostitution because he could not afford dowries for them. St. Nicholas
wanted to save from this fate ... but it was considered bad luck in those
times to take money from a cleric. So he waited until night, climbed onto
the family's roof and dropped bags of gold down the chimney. The gold fell
into the stockings the girls had hung to dry.
Another version of this same story had him leaving the bags of gold
outside the house under a nearby tree. Supposedly this led to the tradition
of children giving and receiving presents in his name.
Nicholas's death was close enough to Christmas that this
gift-giving became associated with that holy day. When early Americans
adopted the idea of Christmas gift-giving from Dutch settlers, they changed
the Dutch version of Nicholas, Sinter-Klaas, to Santa Claus.
Other traditions derive the figure of Santa Claus from the Germanic
god Thor, who was associated with winter and the Yule log and who rode on a
chariot drawn by goats named Cracker and Gnasher. But no Rudolph! The
Rudolph legend was added in the Age of Radio, which came early in the same
century that introduced the Internet and created the legend of e-commerce,
which showered wealth on all boys and girls who were blessed with stock
options. And what did the other good boys and girls receive? Lumps of coal.
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