When talking about presents and reindeer, we should also remember Father Christmas’ medieval ancestor, St Nicholas, whose personal history seems quite distant from that of his jolly successor. Nicholas was born around 270 A.D. in what is present-day Turkey, was persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian and had his nose broken. Among his many, unconfirmed saintly deeds he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by giving them each a dowry, and resurrected three children who had been cut up and placed in a pickling jar by a wicked butcher. The fame of his boldness precedes him: at the Council of Nicaea, he allegedly lost his temper with a theologian with whom he disagreed and spat in his face.
These incidents turned Nicholas into the patron saint of children to whom he brings gifts during the night between yesterday and today… Considering that the average age children stop believing in Father Christmas is getting lower and lower, St Nicholas would seem to have all the right credentials to become a modern hero for those who are slightly older. As for us, whenever we hear the song “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” playing, let’s remember that the original Santa actually came last night and has very little in common with the old man in red who rides a sleigh and drinks Coca Cola – unless the name “Sankt Nikolaus” rings a (sleigh) bell….
Communications and language erase and redraw people and their stories. But we need to be careful: judging from his hagiography, our medieval hero could react in a somewhat hot-headed manner…
St Nicholas of Bari