Feast day of St Nicholas of Myra (Santa Claus)

         “The Gnostic followers of St Nicholas, the Nicolaites, taught that the only way
          to salvation lay through frequent sexual intercourse. In Northern Europe,
          St Nicholas absorbed Pagan attributes from Woden (Odin), chief of the
          wild hunt, who rides through the sky with reindeer and forty-two
          supernatural huntsmen. Since the Reformation, this saint has become
          merged with the Father Christmas of Yuletide. The modern Santa Claus
          also has elements of Thor, traditionally depicted riding a goat and
          carrying a wassail bowl.”  (Pennick 1992, 136)

         “One of the most popular saints in Christendom, especially in the East. He is
          the patron saint of Russia, of Aberdeen, of parish clerks, of scholars
          (who used to be called clerks), of pawnbrokers (because of the three
          bags of gold - transformed to the three gold balls - that he gave to
          the daughters of a poor man to save them from earning their dowers in
          a disreputable way), of little boys (because he once restored to life
          three little boys who had been cut up and pickled in a salting-tub to
          serve for bacon), and is invoked by sailors (because he allayed a storm
          during a voyage to the Holy Land) and against fire. Finally he
          is the original of Santa Claus.

          Little is known of his life but he is said to have been Bishop of Myra (Lycia)
          in the early 4th century, and one story relates that he was present at the Council of
          Nicea (325) and buffeted Arius on the jaw. His day is 6 December, and
          he is represented in episcopal robes with either three purses of gold,
          three gold balls, or three small boys, in allusion to one or other of
          the above legends.”  (Evans 1988)

          [NB Pawnbrokers are said to have taken the three golden balls from the armorial
          signs of the Medici of Florence, which in turn derived them from the St Nichlas legend - PW.]

          When he died his body was buried in the church at Myra. in 1087, following schism between
          Roman and Greek Orthodox Churches, Italians took his bones to Bari,
          where he remains. The ruined tomb attracts many visitors, especially on this day.

         When he was a breastfeeding baby he fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays [the fast
         days appointed by the church] .

         Legend of the 3 dowries
         A nobleman of Patara had three daughters; he was so poor he couldn't
          provide their dowries and they were going to have to go into
          prostitution. St Nick had inherited a large fortune, and he resolved
          to help, but secretly. As he went to their house at night, wondering
          how to do this, the moon came out from behind a cloud and lit up a
          window through which he threw a bag of gold, which fell at the girls'
          father's feet. This enable him to provide a dowry for his first daughter.

         The next night, St Nicholas threw in another, and thus
          procured a dowry for the second daughter. The father wanted to see the
          benefactor, so on the third night he saw St Nick coming and grabbed
          his cloak, saying "O Nicholas! servant of God! why seek to hide thyself?"
          The saint made him promise not to tell anyone. From this
          came the custom on St Nicholas's eve of putting out presents for
          children. Pawnbrokers probably took their symbol from his three gold
          balls or bags of gold.

         Legend of the evil innkeeper
         A gentleman of Asia sent his two sons to Athens for education,
          and had them stop to see the holy Archbishop of Myra, St Nicholas.
          They stayed in an inn where the keeper chopped them up and salted them
          down like bacon. St Nick was warned of this in a terrible vision and
          went and charged the landlord with the crime. He confessed with
          contrition and asked the forgiveness of Heaven. Nichlas granted
          him this and also restored the boys. In art, St Nick is often shown
          next to a tub with tanked children in it.