Trends & Inspiration

Is Saint Nicholas Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas, or Nikolaos of Myra, was a Greek Bishop venerated consequent on a number of miracles attributed to his intercession. He is the patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves and the falsely accused.

Why is St Nick’s Day the 6th December?

Saint Nick died on the 6th December 343AD at the age of 73 and was famed for his generosity. His devotees commemorated his life on the 6th December with a feast. St Nick’s following grew still further when the formation of a clear water-like substance in his grave believed to have healing powers was discovered. This ‘relic’ is known as manna.

figurine santa skating on ice

Photo source: via Pixabay

Where is Saint Nicholas’ Day celebrated?

Western Europe, parts of Russia, and even Ethiopia celebrate St. Nick’s Day. For centuries in Greek folklore, St Nick was – like a a sort of Christianised Poseidon – regarded as ‘The Lord of the Sea’. Indeed, Saint Nicholas is figured as the patron saint of many harbour cities across Europe. People give gifts on the 5 December in the Northern Netherlands and on the 6th December in the southern Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of France and Germany. The time around St. Nick’s Day in these countries – as opposed to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – was principally associated with gift-giving.

Where does the association of St Nicholas as Santa Claus come from?

‘Santa Claus’ likely comes from the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’, itself a corruption of ‘Saint Nikolaos’. Little Saint Nick had a reputation for leaving coins in shoes, if people left them out for him. This practice likely became the model for Sinterklass, who leaves little presents in children’s shoes. (This might seem strange to an English reader, but consider for a moment the practice of stocking filling!) In medieval times, in the Low Countries, the three bags of coins that St Nick was typically painted with were apparently interpreted as oranges. Consequently, the Dutch, the Belgians and my Grandma believed that Saint Nicholas likely lived in Spain and brought oranges with him each year as wintry presents.

Video source: YouTube

Saint Nick died on the 6 December 343AD at the age of 73, renowned for his generosity. His devotees held a feast on the 6 December to commemorate his life. ‘Santa Claus’ likely comes from the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’, itself a corruption of ‘Saint Nikolaos’.

Jack Mann

Jack Mann


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