Nicholas, St.

One of the most popular saints in Christianity, St. Nicholas is the patron of children, unmarried women, sailors, and merchants, as well as the patron saint of Russia. He has long been associated with winter and served as the basis for Santa Claus.

Little is known for certain about the life of St. Nicholas. According to tradition, he was born in the seaport of Patara in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and became bishop of Myra in the A . D . 300S. He was persecuted and imprisoned for his Christian faith.

After his death around A . D . 350, St. Nicholas was buried in the church at Myra. In about 1087, the relics of the saint were moved to Bari, Italy, which became a popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. The church of San Nicola in Bari remains the main shrine to St. Nicholas.

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

relics pieces of bone, possessions, or other items belonging to a saint or sacred person

St. Nicholas had a reputation for kindness and generosity, especially to the poor, and these traits became the basis for various legends. According to one story, St. Nicholas helped three poverty-stricken girls escape a life on the streets by giving them bags of gold to serve as dowries. In another tale, he miraculously brought back to life three young children who had been chopped up and put in a barrel of saltwater to serve as bacon. In yet another legend, St. Nicholas saved the lives of three drowning sailors by stopping a violent storm that threatened to overwhelm them.

During the Middle Ages, devotion to St. Nicholas spread throughout Europe, and it became customary to give gifts to children on the saint's feast day, December 6. The people of Holland called the saint Sinte Klaas, and when Dutch settlers came to North America, they brought the traditions associated with him to the New World.

dowry money, goods, or property that a woman brings to her husband at marriage

When the English took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland, they adopted the tradition of Sinte Klaas. But to avoid celebrating the feast day of a Catholic saint, English Protestants transformed him into a nonreligious figure based on both Sinte Klaas and the Germanic god Thor, a figure also associated with winter. In addition, they moved the feast day from December 6 to Christmas. The name Sinte Klaas was eventually transformed into Santa Claus, the jolly figure who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

See also Santa Claus ; Thor .

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