Finding Good Saint Nick in Bari
Advent and Christmastime evoke many festive images in the minds of the faithful; Christmas trees and advent wreaths, holiday calendars, trays of Christmas cookies, caroling, and of course, presents of all shapes and sizes, delivered by “Good Saint Nick,” also known as Santa Claus. But how many people know that the true origins of the jolly bearded man who jumps down chimneys to give presents on Christmas Eve is actually based on a true saint?
Saint Nicholas was in fact, an early Christian Bishop who was born to a prosperous merchant family in what was once a Greek-speaking seaside city known as Myra, now known as Demre, in modern-day Turkey. Having lost his parents at an early age, he distributed his wealth to the poor and became a monk, eventually making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, residing in Jerusalem near the Holy Sepulchre and in the village known today as Beit Jala, opposite of Bethlehem. Upon his return to his home city, he became a Bishop, and was noted for his acts of charitable giving to the poor, his protection of sailors, children, travelers and people of many trades and professions. In fact, the origin of Santa Claus and his penchant for gift-giving is in fact related to a story of Saint Nicholas saving three impoverished girls from a dishonorable marriage by dropping three bags of gold down the chimney of their father’s home, thereby providing the family with a dowry for marriage. To this day, the symbol of pawnbrokers remains three bags of gold.
The Story of Saint Nick Spreads
The story of the much-beloved Saint Nicholas quickly spread across the whole of Europe and beyond. To this day Saint Nicholas remains among the most venerated of saints in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and amongst Christians in the Holy Land. In Western and Central Europe, his feast day, celebrated on December 6th, became one of the most popular celebrations, unofficially heralding the start of celebrations of the Christmas season. In Germany and in the Netherlands, the folk traditions of Saint Nicholas, Sankt Nikolaus or Sinterklaas, and his penchant for leaving sweets and presents in the soles of shoes on the eve of his feast day became so popular that the tradition continued on amongst German and Dutch communities in America, where it ultimately became the origin of the “Saint Claus story” as we know it today. Indeed, the red suit of Santa is reminiscent of the ornate garb of bishops that Saint Nicholas would have worn as a Bishop!
Pilgrimage to Saint Nicholas
In the city of Bari, Italy, pilgrims from the world over visit the relics of Saint Nicholas at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (Basilica de Santa Nicola) along the eastern coast of south-central Italy. The relics have resided in Baria for nearly a thousand years, and have been the source of innumerable miracles. Three major feast days are celebrated with great enthusiasm and solemnity; his two “Christmas feasts” on the Catholic and Old-Style Orthodox Calendar (December 6th and 19th), and on May 22nd, on the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Nicholas in the Orthodox Church. Myrrh from his tomb is extracted and is considered of the utmost sanctity.
Today, Saint Nicholas continues to intercede for Christian faithful across the world. So while you and your family may enjoy in the delightful joy of Christmastime, do not forget that behind the story of the jolly gift-giver with reindeer and a penchant for eating cookies, there exists a real saint, who will aid you in your hour of need and intercede for you throughout your life!
A Prayer to Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas, helper of the poor and needy, pray for us. Saint Nicholas, champion of orphans and widows, pray for us. Saint Nicholas, protector of those who sail at sea, pray for us. Saint Nicholas, defender of the true faith, pray for us.
Good Shepherd Tours can offer pilgrimages to the tomb of Saint Nicholas at the Basilica in Bari, Italy for our pilgrimage packages to Rome, Assisi, and other places of pilgrimage in Italy! For more information on how to include your next pilgrimage, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.