Saint Nick’s Day

crop black person with decorative santa claus in shop

6th of December for many children (and adults) around Europe and not only is a favourite. All are familiar with the smiling and jolly figure with a white beard. Rescogita focuses on ecopsychology, and despite caring and working towards healthy human-human and human-nature relations we are also very much involved in studying the roots from the past to understand today. So we have a bishop, Nicholas, who lived in what we know today as Turkey, yet back in the IV century part of the Roman Empire. In the 11th century, some Italian sailors stole the remnants of the Saint and brought it to the city of Bari, to protect the remnants of the holy man from advancing Seljuk armies. Likely Saint Nick was a Greek Christian, olive coloured skin, brown eyes and in his 60s, persecuted by emperor Diocletian, likely beaten a few times by the soldiery. Moreover, testimonies from those times did not quite resemble the overweight, merry grandpa figure, rather a passionate zealot, a rebel against the authorities and quite a temper, reason why he was quite often in and out of prison until the times of emperor Constantine, so he did not die in prison. However, his cult grew because it was common belief he did quite a few miracles, and known as the protector of orphans, sailors and prisoners.
However, he made it to the top only later, around the XIII Century, when his reputation changed to a patron of children and the bringer of presents. The reason? Some stories from his life started to develop more liking and approval, like when he saved three girls from prostitution by gifting their poor father with three bags of gold for their dowry. Accompanied by a story where he resurrected three boys murdered by a maniac/cannibal innkeeper. For over 300 hundred years Saint Nicholas had a monopoly concerning bringing gifts, his day falling on the 6th December. Needless to say that often Christianity mixed with older pagan religions, and Saint Nicholas adopted some features of Roman God Saturn and Norse God Odin (magical people with white beards who could fly, and make sure kids behave).
Protestants were not big fans of Saints Worship and up in North Europe, where it was popular the cult decreased, replacing the task of bringing gifts to children from Saint Nicholas to Baby Jesus, and on Christmas Day. Although the image of baby, even if Jesus, is not threatening enough to compel children to behave, nor did it sound right to have Jesus deliver threats. The result was to fish in Germanic folklore, like Krampus, and add a menacing second figure looking more like a grumpy, rough and furry demon who demanded children to behave otherwise be punished.
Much of today’s understanding we have of that figure and role comes from America, ad Dutch colonists and migrants brought along Saint Nicholas’ cult (Sinterklaas), and in the Americas it became a Christian saturnalia, a feast of plenty, food, drinks and celebrations (though initially forgetting about children and gifts). Only in the XIX Century, romantic writers and poets revived the celebration, purpose of family and importance of joy for all children until today. L.Nava