From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus
As holiday is derived from "Holy Day," and Christmas from "Cristes Maesse," the name Santa Claus is derived from St. Nicholas.
My colleague William Federer offered a brief history of the very real St. Nicholas, who is at the root of the modern Santa Claus.
"Greek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas being born to a wealthy, elderly couple in Asia Minor (what is today Turkey) in the year 280 AD. When his parents died, he used the wealth he inherited to generously give to the poor.
"Upon hearing of a merchant who went bankrupt and that creditors were about to take his daughters, Saint Nicholas threw money in the window at night to provide a dowry for the daughters to get married, thus saving them from a life of prostitution. When the father discovered who gave the money, Nicholas made him promise not to tell, as he wanted the glory to go to God alone.
"This inspired the custom of secret gift-giving on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas' death, December 6, 343 AD.
"Saint Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. He was freed by Emperor Constantine. Saint Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea where the Nicene Creed was written.
"Just like the Apostle Paul, in Acts, chapter 19, Saint Nicholas preached against the fertility goddess "Diana" and her immoral temple prostitutes at Ephesus - the Las Vegas of the ancient Mediterranean world. The people responded by tearing down local temple to Diana.
"Saint Nicholas was known for courageously rescuing a soldier who was about to be executed by a corrupt governor, and for having many miraculous answers to his prayers.
"After his death, Emperor Justinian built a cathedral and named it after him. Vladimir the Great of Russia converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of Russia.
"In the 11th century, Muslim Seljuks Turks invaded Asia Minor, killing Christians, turning churches into mosques and digging up the bones of Christian saints and giving them to dogs. For protection, in the year 1087, the bones of Saint Nicholas were shipped to the town of Bari in southern Italy, thus introducing Saint Nicholas and gift-giving traditions to Western Europe.
"Eventually, Dutch immigrants brought the Saint Nicholas traditions to New Amsterdam, which became New York, and they pronounced Saint Nicholas 'Sinter Klass' or 'Santa Claus.'"