Today is the Memorial of Saint Nicholas, Bishop.
Many think of Saint Nick—Santa Nicolaos of Myra—as someone’s figment of imagination that somehow ended up on Coca-Cola bottles and tins of popcorn. Actually, this Saint was a real man. He actually existed. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.
Now, anyone reading this blog can look up Saint Nicolaos’ biography on their own. However, I would like to “read” the attached icon and allow us to see how we got from this icon to the American counterfeit.
Now, with a Catholic Liturgical lens, you would think that Saint Nicolaos was a martyr. In reality, Saint Nicolaos lived in modern-day Turkey. He was Orthodox. The color palette of the East is much different than in the West. Whereas the West delineates colors for a particular purpose—green symbolizes hope, white for resurrection, red for martyrs and the Holy Spirit—the East has two color schemes, light and dark. Dark is for the darker seasons, like fall and winter, and light for spring and summer. (Needless to say, this is a gross simplification. My apologies.) Saint Nicolaos died on December 6, 343, during the darker months. Hence, a darker color, like red.
Now, notice the pallium over Nicolaos’ shoulders. (The pallium is a woolen stripe recognizing an archbishop’s authority over his region.) Now notice its color. Now think of Santa Claus, particularly of that furry stripe going down his chest. Interesting, hunh?
Okay, now what about the hat? Santa Claus as a funny triangular hat. Well, so do bishops. What is now deemed a “Santa hat” is really an adaptation of a Bishop’s Mitre.
I find it fascinating that many of our American Christmas customs are deeply rooted into our Christian tradition. I hope you found this as fascinating as I do. More importantly, I pray that you find time today to venerate this very special and holy man, asking him to sanctify this day, this season and your life.