Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Legends of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas was a real man born in the third century, in what was then Greek but now part of Turkey. He was known for being exceedingly generous, giving all he had to the poor and expecting nothing in return, and is considered a saint of protecting children as well as sailors.

Over time, of course, legends have grown out of this man and I'm sure there's some truth to some of the stories about him but much has been exaggerated. You may have heard the story that is supposedly the origin of stockings-there was a poor man with three daughters and he had no money for their dowries. Because of this he would be forced to sell them into slavery, but on three occasions, a bag of gold was thrown in through the window, so his daughters were saved from slavery. One or more of these bags of gold landed in a stocking drying at the fireplace, and that's where the tradition came from (also, the balls of gold could be the origin of putting oranges in Christmas stocking, a tradition which my father had growing up but which I think has been largely lost, at least in America).

There are other lesser known stories about St. Nicholas-such as magically whisking an enslaved boy back to his parents on St. Nicholas' Day (December 6). Another story I heard in France earlier this year-we were staying very near a Cathedral dedicated to St. Nicholas, with an American who's been living in France, and she was shocked by the violence of this story, but it's really not too different from a lot of fairy tales. Anyway, three students (or children, in the French version) were murdered by an innkeeper, who hid their remains in a pickling tub. Nicholas stayed the night at the inn and dreamed the crime, and summoned the innkeeper. Nicholas prayed and brought the children back to life. I don't know what happened to the innkeeper-neither the story I was told nor this site has anything on it.

Images by Elisabeth Jvanosky and also from the link just above

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