st nicholas


December 1, 2010 + The Saint Who Was Santa Claus

by V. Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, December1971

Dominating our Christmas, rather “holiday” season, (we do not want to be offensive to our non-Christian and non-believing friends), is the Santa Claus legend. The Santa figure and the gift giving displays find their source not in Jesus Christ as much as in the story by Clement Moore, “The Night Before Christmas,” which is itself a distorted derivative of the actual life of the great Orthodox bishop Nicholas who lived in the small coastal town of Myra in what is today Turkey.

In the Moore poem, a modern family is invaded by a well-meaning old man who leaves gifts nobody seems to have asked for or even want. This is the first distortion of the real situation. May we all live our lives and lack nothing! Yet if we can penetrate the stories told of the actual fourth century bishop, under the layers of legend that cover St. Nicholas throughout the centuries, we find one feature common to each tale, no matter how distorted: Bishop Nicholas always aids those in dire need. Despite the myths surrounding the event, the extreme circumstances of those in the tales of St. Nicholas are much more like the life we know than the family in the Moore story.