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History behind the story of St. Nick

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Is Santa Claus real? You bet he is! Well, sort of anyway. The image that we know and love so well actually dates back to a real person in the 3rd century. Nicolas was the son of very wealthy parents who died suddenly due to an epidemic. He was raised by his uncle who was a Greek Priest in the country of Myra, which is modern day Turkey. His uncle had a vision that his nephew would spread joy to people and his vision turned out to be right.

Nicolas had a soft spot in his heart for the downtrodden, the less fortunate, and the ill. He never had children of his own and later took over as Bishop of Myra where he spent countless hours and days going out of his way to help people. He even helped children make hand-made toys. He had a generous heart, to say the least. In later years he travelled all over his territory giving away most of his worldly possessions and was eventually canonized as the Patron Saint of Children.

In an oversea journey to the Holy Land, there was a terrible storm that threatened to wreck the ship that he was aboard. Nicolas prayed unceasingly to God to calm the seas and to the astonishment of the ship’s crew, the storm miraculously subsided and the waves suddenly became calm. No one on board the ship could believe what they had just witnessed and this led to Nicolas to become the Patron Saint of Sailors and Voyagers.

Where the “Santa” story of all of this begins goes back to Nicolas’s early days when he gained a reputation as being someone who gave anonymous gifts never expecting anything in return. Most notable was an account given of a poor father of three girls who were of age to be married, but there was no money for the girls’ dowries. This put the girls in a tight spot, because without finding a husband they would most likely end up in slavery, or worse. Nicolas didn’t want to hurt the father’s pride and he stepped in to help the girls secretly. He tossed bags of gold coins down their chimneys and some of the coins landed in the stockings they had hung by the fireplace. This went on according to plan until he went back to give the third young lady her gift of gold coins and was spotted by her father.

To say the least, the father of the girls was overwhelmed with joy and he was certain that God had finally answered his prayers that his daughters would be safe. The gifts that Nicolas gave were life-changing and what happened afterward was a new spirit of gift giving. There was a swell of spontaneous giving that swept the land and every time someone received a gift they thanked Saint Nicolas, even if he wasn’t the person who left the present. This led to the notion that he could be in more places than once? He was more than just a good Christian – he had magical powers.

The magic that he inspired affected generations to come and when immigrants from the Netherlands came to the United States in the 1800s. They brought with them their knowledge of Saint Nicolas, or Sinter Klass, in their native language, to the new country. The Santa Claus that we know today is a collaboration of real facts, legend, and magic and it first showed up in a poem by Clement Clark Moore in 1823, entitled “The Night Before Christmas.” It’s an iconic poem and you know the words as well as you know “The Pledge of Allegiance” and it unites us all still today.

In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun wanting to know if there really was a Santa Claus because her friends were starting to have doubts. Part of the editor’s response was, “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.” So, is Santa Claus real? You bet he is! He is YOU and he is ME and he is all of the magic that keeps little children all over the world believing in him. Believing in something that you cannot see is what I call faith and I still believe in Santa as much as I believe in the joy, the compassion, and the love that is in each one of us.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant Hotdogs and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.