The real St. Nicholas rode a white horse | TheFencePost.com

The real St. Nicholas rode a white horse

Barbara Guilford Cheyenne, Wyo.

I was surprised to find relics of St. Nicolas or Baba Noel in an Istanbul museum in 2009. Saint Nicolas, the Bishop of Myra, Turkey, was the original and true holiday gift giver. He lived in the 4th century on the Mediterranean coast. The Bishop of Myra was kind and good to children, and unmarried maidens as well as the poor for he gave gifts to those in greatest need. This gift giving was usually done secretly under cover of darkness. He is often depicted wearing red and white vestments riding a white horse or walking with his shepherd staff. After his death in 343 A.D., Christians dedicated that date of his death, Dec. 6 or Dec. 19 of the Julian calendar, as St. Nicholas Day. It is still observed in many countries as the date of gift giving. Legends grew. Eventually, children, merchants, sailors, bankers, and even pawnbrokers and thieves adopted him as their patron saint.

Europeans, including the Vikings and Spaniards through Columbus, named churches and ports after him. The Dutch brought St. Nicholas to America under the name of Sint Nicholaas or Sinterklaas. The Pennsylvanian Germans called him Sankt Niklaus. During Colonial times in America, St. Nicholas rode a white horse and gave gifts to children in remembrance of the saint. New Yorkers promoted their Dutch roots and adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint. Washington Irving published many accounts of a jolly St. Nicholas character with a clay pipe. St. Nicholas Day was observed in New York colony and the first church was dedicated to him. The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas dinner on Dec. 6, 1810. It was claimed that he came through chimneys with a bag of gifts.

The image we have of Santa Claus today can be traced to a lithographed children’s book, “Children’s Friend” in 1821 showed Santa arriving from the North in sleigh with flying reindeer on Christmas Eve. In 1823 the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore gave a complete description of Santa Claus. Some say it was the most famous poem ever written.

Other artists and writers continued the change. In 1863 during the Civil War, Thomas Nast began a series of annual black and white drawings in Harper’s Weekly. His drawings continued until 1886 that established a rotund Santa with a flowing beard and clay pipe. N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell were other popular illustrators who brought color drawings to the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s. Finally in 1931 Haddon Sundblom began 35 years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that established Santa Claus throughout the world. In Turkey a contemporary Bakelite statue of Santa Claus was dedicated in 2006 in Myra.

Today the roly-poly red-suited American symbol for the holiday season has become famous throughout the world. Santa has become our leading Christmas holiday gift giver. He embodies joy, fun, happiness and was developed to boost Christmas sales. A visit to the Cheyenne Botanical Garden’s Children’s Village to view a recent exhibit by Thomas Wise, The Many Faces of Santa, shows that Santa Claus is now firmly established as an icon of contemporary commercial culture. I saw a cowboy Santa, a bowling Santa, a hippy Santa, almost every kind of Santa in the hundreds exhibited except a Santa drinking coke. I was told there was one there but my grandson and I missed it.

Upon reflection I came to realize that many of the customs we celebrate at Christmas have been taking place for 1,600 years. Hanging stockings by the fireplace or giving oranges in the toes of stockings, as well as nuts and fruits point to Father Christmas. Candy canes we hang on our trees are really one of the symbols of St. Nicholas. Gift giving under the cover of darkness has come to us in remembrance of this saintly man who always showed special concern for those in need. Christmas is for showing unselfish concern for others – that giving should always remind us that the true gift giver of Christmas was St. Nicholas. He rode a white horse.

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Readers might like to visit http://www.StNicholasCenter.org to get more information about the importance of St. Nicholas and location of St. Nicholas Museum in Holland, Mich., to schedule or visit a traveling exhibit or to copy online children’s activities.

I was surprised to find relics of St. Nicolas or Baba Noel in an Istanbul museum in 2009. Saint Nicolas, the Bishop of Myra, Turkey, was the original and true holiday gift giver. He lived in the 4th century on the Mediterranean coast. The Bishop of Myra was kind and good to children, and unmarried maidens as well as the poor for he gave gifts to those in greatest need. This gift giving was usually done secretly under cover of darkness. He is often depicted wearing red and white vestments riding a white horse or walking with his shepherd staff. After his death in 343 A.D., Christians dedicated that date of his death, Dec. 6 or Dec. 19 of the Julian calendar, as St. Nicholas Day. It is still observed in many countries as the date of gift giving. Legends grew. Eventually, children, merchants, sailors, bankers, and even pawnbrokers and thieves adopted him as their patron saint.

Europeans, including the Vikings and Spaniards through Columbus, named churches and ports after him. The Dutch brought St. Nicholas to America under the name of Sint Nicholaas or Sinterklaas. The Pennsylvanian Germans called him Sankt Niklaus. During Colonial times in America, St. Nicholas rode a white horse and gave gifts to children in remembrance of the saint. New Yorkers promoted their Dutch roots and adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint. Washington Irving published many accounts of a jolly St. Nicholas character with a clay pipe. St. Nicholas Day was observed in New York colony and the first church was dedicated to him. The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas dinner on Dec. 6, 1810. It was claimed that he came through chimneys with a bag of gifts.

The image we have of Santa Claus today can be traced to a lithographed children’s book, “Children’s Friend” in 1821 showed Santa arriving from the North in sleigh with flying reindeer on Christmas Eve. In 1823 the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore gave a complete description of Santa Claus. Some say it was the most famous poem ever written.

Other artists and writers continued the change. In 1863 during the Civil War, Thomas Nast began a series of annual black and white drawings in Harper’s Weekly. His drawings continued until 1886 that established a rotund Santa with a flowing beard and clay pipe. N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell were other popular illustrators who brought color drawings to the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s. Finally in 1931 Haddon Sundblom began 35 years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that established Santa Claus throughout the world. In Turkey a contemporary Bakelite statue of Santa Claus was dedicated in 2006 in Myra.

Today the roly-poly red-suited American symbol for the holiday season has become famous throughout the world. Santa has become our leading Christmas holiday gift giver. He embodies joy, fun, happiness and was developed to boost Christmas sales. A visit to the Cheyenne Botanical Garden’s Children’s Village to view a recent exhibit by Thomas Wise, The Many Faces of Santa, shows that Santa Claus is now firmly established as an icon of contemporary commercial culture. I saw a cowboy Santa, a bowling Santa, a hippy Santa, almost every kind of Santa in the hundreds exhibited except a Santa drinking coke. I was told there was one there but my grandson and I missed it.

Upon reflection I came to realize that many of the customs we celebrate at Christmas have been taking place for 1,600 years. Hanging stockings by the fireplace or giving oranges in the toes of stockings, as well as nuts and fruits point to Father Christmas. Candy canes we hang on our trees are really one of the symbols of St. Nicholas. Gift giving under the cover of darkness has come to us in remembrance of this saintly man who always showed special concern for those in need. Christmas is for showing unselfish concern for others – that giving should always remind us that the true gift giver of Christmas was St. Nicholas. He rode a white horse.

Readers might like to visit http://www.StNicholasCenter.org to get more information about the importance of St. Nicholas and location of St. Nicholas Museum in Holland, Mich., to schedule or visit a traveling exhibit or to copy online children’s activities.