PATENTBUREAU Web-magazine "Intellectus" Facts & Myths Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

saint_nicholas SAINT NICHOLAS, one of the most popular saints honored by the Greek and the Latin churches was actually a real person who lived in the 4th century in Myra, Asia Minor, which is presently Demre in Turkey. Traditionally, he has been honored on December 6 by the Latin Church and on December 19 according to the churches, such as the Ukrainian, which follow the Julian Calendar.

In his youth Nicholas entered a monastery and later became an abbot and then a bishop. After suffering persecution and imprisonment, he was freed by a new emperor, Constantine. He died in 352 and his relics were preserved in Myra for seven centuries until some Italian merchants sent an expedition of three ships and 62 men to Myra and, through a ruse, carried off his remains. They were deposited in the church in Bari, Italy on the Adriatic Sea on May 9, 1087 where they have remained to this day.

Many traditions relating to Saint Nicholas as the special guardian of maidens, children, scholars, merchants and sailors, have come down to our day.

THERE IS A LEGEND that connects St. Nicholas with the tradition of giving presents secretly. There was a nobleman in Patana with three daughters but he was too poor to provide them with a dowry for marriage. He was almost on the point of abandoning them to a sinful life when Nicholas heard of his problem. That night he took a purse of gold and threw it in an open window. The nobleman used it for a dowry the next day as he did a second purse he found the next night. Curious about his benefactor, the third night he watched and caught Nicholas in the act but he was told not to reveal the Saint's identity or generosity. Ever since, St. Nicholas has been identified with the tradition of gift giving. His three purses of gold eventually became the three golden balls symbol of pawnbrokers.

ST. NICHOLAS IS THE MOST POPULAR SAINT IN THE UKRAINIAN CHURCH after St. Vladimir, as is shown by the fact that there have been more churches named after St. Nicholas than after any other saint. Some scholars believe that it was through the great popularity that the Saint enjoyed in Kievan Rus-Ukraine in medieval times that his popularity spread to western Europe, and particularly to Belgium and Holland.

In Ukraine the first mention of St. Nicholas is related to the year 882 at the time of King Ihor of Rus when there was mention of a St. Nicholas Church on one of the hills of Kiev. When St. Vladimir, King of Rus-Ukraine in 988 proclaimed Christianity the religion of his realm it is said he had a special veneration for an ikon of St. Nicholas. When he had visited Constantinople he had seen and was impressed by an ikon of the mighty Byzantine Emperor bowing to the Saint. To this day St. Nicholas ikons may be found, usually on the left of the ikonostas wall of Ukrainian churches.

Among the talismans the Zaporozhian Cossacks would often take in their boats on the treacherous Black Sea was an ikon of St. Nicholas, or Sviaty Mykolai, as Ukrainians usually call him. The Hutsuls, mountaineers of western Ukraine named the four seasons of the year after saints. Winter honored St. Nicholas, Spring was St. George, Summer was St. Peter and Fall was St. Demetrius. Gift giving has been related to St. Nicholas in Ukraine for less than a century and a half. The Christmas Tree, originally a German tradition, first came into Ukraine about 1840 via Austrian influence.

Saint Nicholas is now a permanent part of Christmas, the season of peace and generosity among all peoples. So it's appropriate that the elements of our Christmas celebrations should have come from so many nations. Although the Ukrainian Saint Nicholas wears the dress of a bishop while the American Santa Claus is a jolly fellow in a white fur-trimmed suit of red, however, under both there is a heart that first beat some sixteen centuries ago in Myra. The generous spirit of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, lives on today.

OVER THE PAST 200 YEARS, as the traditions around Christmas have grown and the importance of this winter festival brightens the season, Saint Nicholas has been absorbed into the tradition. It was the Dutch settlers who brought the St. Nicholas customs across the ocean to New York. The whitebearded Saint Nicholas in a red bishop's costume was transformed into Santa Claus in the United States and Canada and eventually the tradition re-crossed the ocean to England.

On materials of magazine InfoUkes Inc, 19.12.2005

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