Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the city of Bari in Puglia region. he is also revered throughout Europe as the protector of children. the story of how the saint,called San Nicola di Bari,came to be our modern-day Santa Claus is a long fascinating tale.
Nicholas was born in the fourth century to wealthy parents in what is now Turkey. His parents died when he was quite young and he inherited their fortune. Nicholas was very kind and when he heard of a poor father who could not provide his three daughters with wedding dowries, dooming them to a life in a brothel, he decided to help, without revealing his identity. One night, depending on the version of the story, he either climbed to the roof of the families house and dropped a sack of gold down the chimney or tossed the money through the window. he repeated the action on two more occasions. the last time, the father, who sat up waiting to see who the family’s benefactor was, recognized Nicholas. soon everyone in town knew of his good works. eventually he was made the Bishop of Myra in Turkey, where he lived and died.
In 1087, sailors decided to take the Christian bishop’s remains to safety away from Myra, which was then in control of the saracen infidels. his bones were removed and a great catheral was built to house them in Bari. many miracles were attributed to the bishop, and he eventually became a saint.
Nicholas is also considered the protector of sailors because, it is said, he once saved a ship from disaster when he was invoked during a fierce storm. his fame spread as far away as northern Europe. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas, there known as Sinterklaas, was depicted as a kindly old man with a long white beard, wearing his red bishop’s robe. It became the custom to give children small gifts on his feast day, December 6.
Dutch settlers brought the story of Saint Nicholas with them to New Netherlands, what is now New York State. In 1809, on Saint Nicholas Day, Washington Irving published his Knickerbocker Tales, a humorous history of New York and the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant. Saint Nicholas is mentioned frequently, and Irving wrote, “nor was the day of St. Nicholas suffered to pass by, without making presents, hanging the stocking in the chimney and complying with all it’s other ceremonies.” evidently the traditions we associate with Santa Claus and Christmas were already established.
Clement Clark Moore, a classics professor and a member of a group of writers known as Knickerbocker authors, which include Washington Irving, is believed to have written the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” in 1822 as a gift for his children. Moore’s poem inspired cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly to draw Saint Nicholas much as we know him today, as a jolly old fat man in a red suit.