How Saint Nicholas Became American Santa Klaus
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there
One of the most wonderful historical figure teaching us values we respect is a kind bishop from 4. century, St. Nicholas. He offered and example of kindness, love and — sense of humor. He preached and lived with modesty, empathy, generosity and good will. We love him in the old continent and there are more churches in Europe in the name of St. Nicholas (svatý Mikuláš), especially then in the Czech Republic, than you can ever count! The admiration of him transcended the ocean as he became a patron of New York City and become the famous SANTA KLAUS!
St. Nicholas (or Nicolaus in Latin) is called in Czech and Slovak Mikuláš [Mikulaash- "mi" pronounced as in minute], in Holland St. Nicholas is called Sinterklaas....when Dutch people came to the New World, they brought with them the traditions of Sinterklass whose name became Santa Claus!
Who is the Saint Nicholas also known as Mikuláš who visit children ?
St. Nicholas lived in approximately AD 280 - 346 in Myra, Lycia (today in Turkey), raised in Roman Empire in a Greek Christian colony in times when Christianity was not yet legalized. (Constantine legalized Christianity AD 313.) He was taught by his parents to always give to the needed and to heed justice. His parents (well respected and educated) died young and left him riches, and as he was taught, he practiced incredible generosity. He fought for justice and saved many from unjust punishment and set on a path of teaching and practicing good will, kindness, justice and love.
Due to the persecution of Christians, he was jailed and tortured, but survived with dignity. In 325 he is known to participate in the very important Council in Nicea where only the brightest were invited. There in Nicea the foundation of Christianity were laid out.
When Turkey was taken by Muslims, his relics were transported to the Italian town Bari in 1087 by the Italian sailors. (St. Nicholas is a patron of sailors and fishermen.)
The tradition of the St. Nicholas celebration, Mikuláš, started in 13th century, which is about a milenium after St. Nicholas died, AD 346, December 6. (The celebration is a night prior.) Just imagine how loved he is — he is a patron of Russia and Greece and many cities; there are 124 churches in the Czech Republic alone built in his name including two breathtaking wellknown Baroque churches in Prague — Sv. Mikuláš at Lesser Town (Malá Strana) and Sv. Mikuláš at the Old Time Square (Staroměstké náměstí). There are also several villages named Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas), the oldest from the year 1308, located by the town Kutná Hora. St. Nicholas was first embraced in 8th century by Russians. He became and still is a patron of Russia. By the 10th century his fame spread through the entire Europe. He was a symbol of generosity, justice, strenght and goodwill.
And here is the well-known legend explaining the stuffing of our stockings!
There was a poor family having three daughters. The daughters could not marry as they had no dowry. If they will not marry they may be sold into slavery.
One night they were drying their knitted stockings by the fire. Bishop Nicholas, aka Mikuláš knows this wonderful hardworking but poor family, throws through the chimney three balls of gold...each ball founds a way to one of the stockings, each belonging to one of the girls.....thus the maidens could marry!
Hence we hang stockings by the fireplace....This beautiful tradition of a St. Nicholas visits has been carried in Europe for 700 years and is a part of teachings of kindness, compassion, generosity and love, and helps children understand how to behave!
What is the traditional celebration of St. Nicholas aka Mikuláš?
The tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas is to help spread the good will and love to children and a trio was created consisting of St. Nicholas as a bishop (justice, generosity), devil ( to help children recognize good and evil as he represents their misbehaving) and angel (sweetness, forgiveness, hope) . They go every December 5 from home to home, Mikuláš praises children for good deeds and with kindness but firmness raises his finger if he learns the children were sometimes disobedient! Children have to recite or sing to Mikuláš, to show him a respect. Mikuláš then gives children a sack full of goodies. If the children misbehave, they will be given a potato or a piece of coal as a warning. And belive or not, many children cry if they find a potato and immedietly promise their parents they will get better.
And how parents arrange for "the trio"? You can hire them in your village or town or friends and family will help each other to act the characters out for children in full costumes.
The tradition not only ushers Christmas spirit in, it not only brings excitement for both, adults and children, but it is also an effective tool for all parents. During my entire childhood if I were not good and it was toward Christmas time, my parents only mentioned "devil may take you" or "Mikuláš watches" you and I was all a perfect girl again!
And so, St. Nicholas made it all the way to America with Dutch people and became Santa Klaus who give presents through the chimney. You may be surprise to know that the Czech and Slovak children have both — St. Nicholas celebration December 5 and then a Baby Jesus (an equivalent of Santa Claus) comes with presents on December 24. But that is a different story!
And this is how we will celebrate our St. Nicholas in San Diego in the Czech and Slovak community: Our celebration usually starts with a puppet Jester who greets children and suddenly a very old fashion telephone rings, a Jester picks it up and yes Mikuláš is on the way! Children's joyful expectation is in the air! Caroling follows, then impressive range of children-musicians performances, a story about Christmas is acted out, then we dance children dancest and finally —here comes Mikuláš, Devil and Angel burdened by MANY beautiful packages!
Each child is called up front and has to recite a poem, or sing. How beautiful! You see all of the emotions from shyness, boldness, hesitation to joy, smiles but also some tears! It is all for a wonderful cause: To show and instill in children that the tenet of a happy life is to do upon other as you want to be done upon you. Be kind, diligent, know how to forgive and try your hardest is the mission and the core of St. Nicholas tradition!
Merry very merry Christmas and kindness, love and goodwill for us all!