Thursday, December 9, 2004

The Basilica de St. Nicola in Bari, Italy. It is a wonderful geographic location to know; although it is not known for its historical riches, inventions or familiar birthplaces. It is vaguely known as the final resting place of a third-century bishop and the humble birthplace of love and generosity.

Unfortunately, the remains of this particular bishop were stolen from his hometown of Myra in 1087 A.D. and finally came to rest in Bari, Italy. But regardless of where these remains rest, the relatively obscure history and folklore of this bishop continues to live on; for in his life, it is claimed that, among so many other deeds:

  • He obstructed an executioner to save the life of his prisoner.
  • Although his family was very wealthy, he gave all of his financial wealth away to the needy and suffering.
  • He saved three sailors from drowning by miraculously stopping a storm.
  • He is said to have brought dead children back to life.
  • In many cases, he anonymously showered individuals with gifts when they were most in need and because of these acts and his faith, he was exiled and imprisoned.

This was no ordinary bishop by any worldly standard and was hailed by the Russians as "The Miracle Worker." Upon his death, he was granted sainthood for his tireless life of giving. And from there, his life would forever vanish among a plethora of folklore... It is true, his relics remain in Bari, Italy, but his spirit of giving and sacrifice forever lives on in almost every country across this planet. As saint, he serves as patron saint of a great variety of persons: children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers. The Bishop of Myra is unknowingly known by almost all, but is best known by his given name: Nicholas.

The Basilica de St. Nicola in Bari, Italy. It is a location you will want to know when your child, nephew or niece finally asks the question, "Is there really a Santa Claus (St. Nick)?" Yes, my child, there really is a St. Nick who gives unselfishly to all. He is alive and well today - living in the hearts of you and I, as present day Santa Clauses. For beyond the folklore and mystery, there truly is a love story for all mankind and it begins in Bari, Italy.


And for those that may want to follow the folklore/fact surrounding the metamorphisis of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus, feel free to read on...

Along the way the myth and the legend of the gift-giving Saint was intertwined with other country’s versions and new names began to appear for St. Nicholas. Puritans in America during the 1600’s banned the mention of St. Nicholas along with gift-giving, candle-lighting and carol-singing. The Dutch ended that period when they brought Sinta Klass with them to New York in the 17th century. In 1773, his name appeared in print as St. A Claus. In 1809, Washington Irving, who wrote under the name of Diedrich Knickerbocker, painted a clearer picture of Santa Claus. This Santa rode on a horse, not a sleigh.

It was 1823 when Santa finally received his reindeer and sleigh in a poem entitled “The Night Before Christmas” written by Clement Clarke Moore. It’s no wonder that by the early 1800’s Santa Claus was pictured by Americans as a short, fat gnome-like fellow who smoked a pipe and rode a sleigh powered by reindeer. Santa’s beard had become white as snow, possibly because he was getting so far along in years.

Santa Claus’ reputation was somewhat tarnished in 1862 (at least in the eyes of the Confederate soldier) when he was caught, dressed in a fir-lined stars and stripes outfit, in the act of delivering goodies to Union soldiers.

Haddon Sundblom changed Santa’s image forever when, in 1931, he created the first Coca-Cola Santa for their advertising campaign. Santa’s new image caught on so well that every year Santa is seen in a new pose for Coca-Cola.

Christian, Pagan and the Catholic Religions all had a hand in shaping the folklore of Santa Claus as did the Scandinavian, Dutch, German, American and English people. Today each country has its own version of the Saint and gift-giving traditions.

The Finland Santa doesn’t drive a sleigh at all. He rides a goat made of straw named Ukko. Never fear — legend states the straw is strong enough to support his weight. His name is not Santa, either. It’s Joulupukki.

In Holland, Sinter Klass rides with his faithful servant, Black Peter, who’s job is to throw the children’s presents down the chimney. As a side note, Black Peter is also responsible for the punishment of bad boys and girls. He wraps them in bags and totes them to Spain.

Most children in Spain receive their presents from the Three Kings. Their shoes are placed under the tree on the night of January 5th and presents are found in their shoes the next morning. Some lucky children of Spain receive small presents from Papa Noel also on Christmas Eve.

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