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- Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman CBE (1906-1984)




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St. Alban's Church, St. Alban's Road,

Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1DE

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You may like to read this on Sunday 6th December ~ Advent 2 and The Feast of St. Nicholas



Sometimes known as Santa Claus ! 


Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of  Patra which is  now on the southern coast of Turkey, but in those days was art of Greece. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

At that time the Roman Emperor was Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted the Christians including Bishop Nicholas who was exiled and imprisoned. Eventually released, He attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.  This was called to preserve the unity of the Church which was threatened by competing claims about the nature of Jesus Christ. Bishop Nicholas died on December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

Lots of stories of his good deeds surround St. Nicholas life and he is known as a protector of children, sailors, and a friend to all those in trouble or need.      

So, how did the kindly Christian saint, the good Bishop Nicholas, become a roly-poly red-suited symbol for merry festivity and commercial activity?   Like lots of things, I suppose we can blame the Americans.  After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride their colony's nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. The first Dutch migrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony. The first church there was dedicated to him and in the early 19th century he was being depicted not quite as the saintly bishop, but rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe although still dressed in a version of his red Bishops robes.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Santa Claus was well established as we now see him depicted in his fur trimmed red suit, so, he was not an invention of the Coca Cola company as we are often told. It was not until 1931 that that they adopted him for their advertising and further promoted the Santa we recognise today.  I said we should blame the Americans, but perhaps we should really thank them as they have helped keep Saint Nicholas alive. If you peel away the superficial stuff, he is still Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who put Jesus Christ at the centre of his life and would remind us all that the true centre of Christmas is the birth of Jesus.