Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Yes Virginia, Santa Was a Real Dude

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 23•14

st-nicholasEveryone knows who Santa is, right? Fat dude in a red suit that lives at the North Pole and goes Ho, Ho, Ho! Right? Er . . . maybe not.

The Santa that everyone thinks they know is based on a real person. And that person might just have gone on his own naughty list.

I’m talking about Nicholas of Myra, a third and fourth century bishop who lived in present-day Turkey. In recent years scientists examined the skull of this saint and discovered that in life he had a broken nose. Perhaps he was a brawler? One (probably not true) story is that he punched a heretic in the face at the council of Nicaea in 325.

So who was the real Santa? And did he belong on the naughty or nice list?

To answer that question, we have to go back to 170, when Nicholas was born in a port city of Patara. At the time, that part of Turkey was culturally Greek and politically Roman. Nicholas’s wealthy parents died while he was still young, and the boy was raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas). Since Old Nicholas was the bishop of Patara, it seems logical that when young Nicholas went into the church that he was engaging in family business. Eventually Nicholas became Bishop of Myra.

According to legend, Nicholas performed so many miracles throughout his life that people called him “Nicholas the wondermaker” and even “Saint Nicholas.” That was to his face, Ya’ll. Notable actions include raising the dead, helping sailors, solving murders and giving to the poor in secret.

I kind of want to read a book about St. Nicholas, gumshoe P.I. now. He could find the bodies and then bring them back to life.

So the stories go, on one occasion a man had three daughters but was too poor to afford a dowry. He worried that his girls would go into prostitution to support themselves if he didn’t find them proper husbands. Hearing of his plight, Nicholas hid bags of coins in the girls stockings that they had set out to dry overnight.

Many of these legends are probably just made up, but the one about the daughters is probably true.

After his death, Nicholas was a very popular saint in the early church and the later middle ages. Unlike many of the saints, Nicholas seemed approachable. This was a man who punched heretics, but also gave to the poor. He could be any of us, just . . . you know, with a job that involved wearing a funny hat. So many people loved Nicholas that there are churches dedicated to him all over Europe. Eventually, immigrants from the Netherlands brought their tradition of honoring “sinterklauus” to North America along with Christmas trees and other holiday trappings.

As for the actual St. Nicholas, when the Turks took over his homeland, sailors from Bari stole his remains. Trafficking in relics was a common practice in those days. A good relic would bring in tourists pilgrims to a city. Venetian sailors stole the bones of St. Mark for their own city in just this way.

So what did the real Santa look like? In the 1950’s scientists made a cast of the saint’s remains. A few years ago, a facial reconstruction was made based on that cast. Based off of that, this is probably what he looked like:

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