Santa Claus Original from Turkey
Tug-of-war: An archaeologist has called on the Vatican to return the bones of St Nicholas, pictured (top) when he was the Bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 4th century and (bottom) as he is depicted now, to his home town
Very little is known about St. Nicholas’s life, except that in the fourth century he was the bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. One of the legends surrounding him is that he saved three sisters from being forced into prostitution by their poverty-stricken father by throwing three bags of gold into their room, thus providing each of them with a dowry. This may be the source of St. Nicholas’s association with gift giving.
On December 6 in the Netherlands, St. Nicholas, or Sinterklass, still rides into town on a white horse, dressed in his red bishop’s robes and preceded by “Black Peter,” a Satanic figure in Moorish costume who beats the bad children with a switch while rewarding the good children with candy and gifts. He is the patron saint of sailors, and churches dedicated to him are often built so they can be seen off the coast as landmarks.
The American Santa Claus, a corruption of “St. Nicholas,” is a cross between the original St. Nicholas and the British “Father Christmas.” The political cartoonist Thomas Nast created a Santa Claus dressed in furs and looking more like King Cole—an image that grew fatter and merrier over the years, until he became the uniquely American figure that adorns thousands of cards, decorations, and homes throughout the Christmas season. Although Americans open their gifts on Christmas or Christmas Eve, in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and some other European countries, gifts are still exchanged on December 5, St. Nicholas’s Eve, or December 6, St. Nicholas’s Day.
St. Nicholas’s Day
During the Middle Ages St. Nicholas was one of the most venerated saints in western Europe. Although his popularity has since declined, his feast day, December 6, is still celebrated in the Netherlands and other European countries. Immigrants brought the legends and customs surrounding St. Nicholas with them to the United States. There the saint was transformed into the American Christmas season gift bringer called Santa Claus.
Shoes, Stockings, and Gifts
In Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and parts of Germany, folk tradition cast St. Nicholas in the role of a Christmas season gift bringer. Folk representations of St. Nicholas usually portray him as an elderly white-bearded man who carries a bishop’s staff and dresses in a red bishop’s robe and miter. This kindly saint distributes presents to others in honor of his feast day. On the night of December 5 he brings fruit, nuts, cookies, candy, and other small gifts to well-behaved children. Those who have misbehaved too often during the year might receive a stick, warning them of punishment to come.
Children expecting presents on St. Nicholas’s Eve helpfully provide small receptacles in which the saint may deposit his gifts. In the Netherlands children leave their shoes by the fireplace. In Czechoslovakia children attract the saint’s attention with stockings hanging on the window frame. In Austria Nicholas knows to look for children’s shoes on the windowsill. Perhaps inspired by legends of pagan spirits descending into homes via the smoke from the hearth, St. Nicholas often enters homes through the chimney (see also Berchta).
St. Nicholas’s Helpers
The powerful saint does not have to carry out his gift-giving activities alone. According to some folk traditions, he can compel a minor demon to aid him in his mission. In Czechoslovakia this devil is known as a cert. In parts of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland a shaggy demon called Klaubauf, or Krampus, serves St. Nicholas. He frightens children with his blackened face, scarlet eyes, horns, and clanking chains. Incidentally, the name “Klaubauf” is a contraction of the German phrase Klaub auf!, which means “pick ’em up.” This is an especially appropriate name since St. Nicholas and his helper often toss their goodies on the floor. In other parts of Germany a rough fellow named Knecht Ruprecht, or “Knight Ruprecht,” sometime aids the saint. In the Netherlands a menacing character called Black Peter tags along behind Nicholas. These sinister figures often carry a heavy sack of gifts, the book in which the saint has recorded the children’s behavior, and a stick with which to smack misbehavers.
As early as the tenth century, St. Nicholas’s Day was observed with liturgical dramas retelling the story of the saint. By the twelfth century these dramas had evolved into “St. Nicholas Plays,” which were usually produced by choirboys in honor of the saint’s feast day (seealso Nativity Plays). These plays retold some of the most widely known legends concerning St. Nicholas and were quite popular during the late Middle Ages, when the cult of St. Nicholas reached its zenith in western Europe. They present us with some of the earliest surviving European plays that take as their subject matter something other than Christian scripture.
Some researchers think that the custom of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas’s Day started in the twelfth century. At that time nuns from central France started to leave gifts on the doorsteps of poor families with children on St. Nicholas’s Eve. These packages contained nuts and oranges and other good things to eat. Some researchers believe that ordinary people adopted the custom, spreading it from France to other parts of northern Europe. Other writers suppose that the folklore surrounding St. Martin may have inspired the traditions that turned St. Nicholas into a gift giver. In past centuries St. Martin, another bishop-saint, was said to ride through the countryside delivering treats to children on the eve of his feast day (see Martinmas). In the Netherlands Nicholas’s helper Black Peter wears sixteenth-century clothing, which may indicate that St. Nicholas was bringing gifts to Dutch children at least as far back as that era.
Western Europeans honored Nicholas as the patron saint of children. Some of the customs associated with his feast day gave children the opportunity to reign over adults. For example, in medieval times the festivities surrounding the boy bishop often began on St. Nicholas’s Day. The boy bishop, a boy who assumed the rank of bishop for a short while, was one of the mock rulers who presided over Christmas season merrymaking in the Middle Ages (see also King of the Bean; Lord of Misrule). In the sixteenth century, schoolboys in the British Isles hit upon the idea of barring out the schoolmaster in order to gain a few days’ vacation. This custom, which continued for several centuries, was often practiced on St. Nicholas’s Day.
An early seventeenth-century document records a German Protestant minister’s displeasure with the myth that St. Nicholas brings gifts for children. His sentiments echoed the concerns of many Protestant leaders of that era who wished to do away with the veneration of saints. In the centuries that followed, the Christkindel, or “Christ Child,” became the Christmas season gift bringer in most of Germany. This change indicates that Protestant leaders had achieved some success in their campaign against the saint.
St. Nicholas’s Day in the Netherlands
The Netherlands hosts Europe’s most extensive St. Nicholas Day celebrations. They begin with the official arrival of St. Nicholas in the Netherlands, weeks before his feast day. Each year the arrival of St. Nicholas and Black Peter from their home in far-off Spain is reenacted in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. A great crowd gathers to witness the arrival of the ship bearing the saint and his helper. A white horse, St. Nicholas’s traditional mode of transport, stands ready to serve the saint. As the gift bringers descend from the ship, the crowd easily identifies Nicholas by his red bishop’s robe, miter, crook, and long white beard. After greeting the mayor, the saint and his helper lead a parade to Amsterdam’s central plaza. There the royal family officially welcomes Holland’s Christmas season gift bringers. This event is broadcast on Dutch television.
In the weeks that follow, store windows display treats and gifts appropriate for St. Nicholas’s Day. Meanwhile, children dream of the evening when they will put their shoes by the hearth to receive gifts from the kindly saint. Dutch folklore asserts that Nicholas and Black Peter, mounted on the saint’s magical white horse, fly across Holland on St. Nicholas’s Eve distributing gifts to children. Black Peter does the dirty work of slipping down the chimneys to deposit the children’s gifts. He also collects the carrots, hay, and sugar that thoughtful children have left there for St. Nicholas’s horse. If the two should find any children who misbehave frequently, they leave a rod or switch, warning of punishment to come.
Families begin celebrating St. Nicholas’s Day on the evening of December 5 when they enjoy a special meal together. A traditional St. Nicholas’s Day dinner features roast chicken or duck. In addition, many special sweets are served at this meal. Some cooks mark each person’s place at the table with letterbankets, large, marzipan-filled pastries shaped like letters of the alphabet. Other St. Nicholas’s Day treats include speculaas, spicy butter cookies, oliebollen, doughnuts with raisins in them, and taai-taai, honey cookies. It is not unusual for St. Nicholas and his helper, Black Peter, to visit these parties. Sometimes they just open the door, throw candies into the room, and dash away (see also Julklapp). Other times they enter and deliver these treats to the children in person, along with advice and admonitions concerning future behavior. Adults know that friends or family members are impersonating these figures, but children are often astonished by the pair’s detailed knowledge of their good and bad deeds during the past year.
Family members also exchange presents with one another at this time. In fact, St. Nicholas’s Eve, Sinterklaas-Avond in Dutch, is sometimes called Pakjes-Avond, or “Parcel Evening.” Attention falls less on the simple gifts themselves, however, than on the tricky way in which they are delivered and the rhyming verses that accompany them. Sometimes the package only contains a clue as to where the real gift is hidden. Other times small gifts are wrapped in a succession of much larger boxes. The Dutch take great care in composing humorous lines of verse to accompany these gifts. Everyone looks forward to hearing these short poems read out loud. Those who can’t come up with something clever can hire one of the professional verse writers who ply their trade at department stores around St. Nicholas’s Day. Indeed, rhyming verses can be found throughout Dutch society at this time of year. Visitors to the Dutch parliament may be surprised to find the nation’s politicians occasionally delivering a short rhyming speech in honor of the holiday.
St. Nicholas’s Day in Italy
St. Nicholas’s Day festivities in Italy emphasize the saint’s role as the patron of seafarers. In Italy St. Nicholas Day is observed on May 7 and May 8, dates that commemorate the arrival of the saint’s relics from their original tomb in Myra (now Demre), Turkey. The town of Bari, where the saint’s remains now rest, hosts a large celebration. Worshipers flock to the saint’s tomb in the Church of San Nicola. A procession escorts a statue of the saint from his tomb down to the harbor. Followers place the image on the deck of a flower-strewn boat which is escorted out to sea by hundreds of small vessels carrying fishermen and pilgrims. After the day’s festivities worshipers escort the image back to the Church of San Nicola.
Give Santa back! Turkish professor calls for return of St Nicholas’ bones which were taken to the Vatican in the 11th century
Santa Claus, or rather St. Nicholas, was born in ancient Lycia in the fourth century and always lived in the city of Myra, now Demre and died on December 6, 343. Today the city is home to a church dedicated to the saint, but the precious relics were stolen in 1087 by Italian merchants and brought to Bari, where St. Nicholas is still the riveritissimo protector of the city. The mishaps related to the remains of the saint not end however on the Apulian coast. Indeed a phalanx arrived in Lorraine , to be precise in Port, eventually even make St. Nicholas the patron of the entire region!
Lorraine from the cult of the saint spread to Germany, where he was born the legend of Santa Claus who then spread, since the nineteenth century., in Northern Europe and here in the US . As evidence of this Santa Claus derives from the Dutch Sinteklaas . In Germany the cult of St. Nicholas would then woven with the party of traders and bakers , falling December 6th, soon became the party of children, to whom San Nicola bore fruit, sweets and gifts. A further engagement of the saint “turkish” on European traditions in Northern Europe came when the cult of St. Nicholas was built over the pagan cults revelers the heart of winter.
The proposal academician, became official during the Meeting of Hoteliers of the Mediterranean , a business meeting held in Antalya, reflects the policy of the Minister of Culture turkish , Ertuğrul Günay, which is to ask the great European museums the return of objects and relics stolen from Turkey . The views of Günay have over the years caused accesses debates because they do not stop to general requests for apologies and moral convictions, but require physical back than subtracted making Turkey a dangerous enemy of the artistic heritage of European museums. Especially since the country Anatolian echoes regional this battle, encouraging neighbors to complain to the European institutions.
Turkey raises yet another question to Europe, putting himself at the head of a kind of cultural decolonization , accusing European countries of avvere subtracted artistic goods from countries not considered to be in a position to safeguard its assets. Ankara tries to take on more and more the leading role in the region and once again said it would not deal with Brussels from a position of inferiority, as demonstrated by ‘ ultimatum launched by Prime Minister Erdogan last October: or Turkey will be a member of the European Union by 2023 or never will be again.
With an address at the North Pole, every child knows where Santa Claus lives.
But the ancient remains of the person on whom the mythical figure of Father Christmas is based are at the centre of a tug-of-war.
An archaeologist has called on the Vatican to return the bones of St Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, to his home town in Turkey.
Professor Nvzat Cevik said the bones of the third century saint were taken out of the country in 1087 ‘by force’ and buried in Italy.
Cevik has called on the Vatican to voluntarily give up the religious artifact and return them to his grave in the town of Demre in the southern province of Antalya.
He denies the request is aimed at boosting tourism for the region but says it is simply a human wish.
Christmas is not widely celebrated in the Muslim nation of Turkey.
Popular figure: Tourists walk the ruins of ancient Lycian tombs in Myra, Turkey, the hometown of St Nicholas
But Santa Claus is based on stories about St Nicholas who built a reputation for performing miracles and secretly giving gold to the needy.
On one occasion, according to stories, he climbed down a chimney to leave his donation.
After his death in the year 343 Nicholas was buried in his hometown of Myra.
Arab forces who occupied Myra in the 11th century excavated the bones and brought them back to the Italian port of Bari where they are buried to this day.
Despite lacking St Nicholas’s bones the ancient town of Myra, which is now called Demre, houses a museum dedicated to his good deeds and attracts scores of visitors each year.