St. Nicolas vs. Santa Claus - Who is Who?

Today, on December 19, many Eastern Christians celebrate the St. Nicolas Day. Little children especially look forward to it because they us...

Today, on December 19, many Eastern Christians celebrate the St. Nicolas Day. Little children especially look forward to it because they usually get gifts under the pillow brought by St. Nicolas. The tradition is very much like what Santa Claus does on Christmas, however not many people realize that Santa Claus and St. Nicolas are the same person. 
Picture: Łukasz Ciaciuch, Prawdziwy święty Mikołaj (

Who is St. Nicolas and was he real?
St. Nicolas was a real person who lived in the 4th century A.D. in today's Turkey (back then it was the Roman Empire). He was born and raised in the coastal city of Patara in a wealthy Greek family. 

Why did St. Nicolas become so famous?
St. Nicolas was from the rich family. However, he didn't take advantage of all the money and wealth that his parents left him, but instead used them over the prolonged period of time to help those in need. There are a few legends about his kindness and generosity. He was also a very religious person which helped convert many people from paganism to Christianity.  

In what countries do people celebrate the St. Nicolas Day?
People from many countries (over 40) celebrate the St. Nicolas Day, however this feast is the most popular in Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Greece, Russia and Poland. Eastern Christians  celebrate it on December 19 while Western Christians celebrate it on December 6. The difference in 13 days is caused by Russian Empire and much of Eastern Europe switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1918.  The St. Nicolas Day is the day of his death, not birth as many people believe. In Christianity, a physical death often means a spiritual birth.

Where did St. Nicolas live?
When St. Nicolas grew up, he moved to Myra (modern day Demre), then-Greek city by the Mediterranean Sea where he lived for the rest of his life. Little does today's Demre resemble what the ancient Myra looked like almost 1600 years ago. Now it's a city of greenhouses that provides fruits and vegetables not only to Turkey, but to many other countries including Ukraine, Russia and others.
St. Nicolas Church is Demre, Turkey (now a museum) where St. Nicolas lived for most of his life attracts many pilgrims and visitors from Eastern Europe, especially from Russia. 
The square in front of the church was usually busy with vendors selling religious souvenirs, but the year 2016 saw very few tourists from Russia due to the travel ban imposed on Turkey by the Russian government. Even the domain name ( targeted Russians.

Where is St. Nicolas buried?
After the collapse of the Roman (and later Byzantine) Empire, much of Asia Manor was taken over by Turks who had little interest in preserving the heritage of St. Nicolas. The tomb of St. Nicolas at the church where he lived was threatened, so that in 1087 Italians sailed to Myra (Demre), located the reliquary of St. Nicolas and took it to Bari, Italy where it remains today. 

What happened to St. Nicolas Church after Italians took the reliquary of St. Nicolas to Italy?
St. Nicolas Church was abandoned and forgotten. Its proximity to the river ensured that the church was filled with slit and buried until 1862 when it was restored by Russian Tsar Nicholas I. 
Its marvellous wall frescos helped proclaim the church as one of the best examples of the Byzantine architecture in modern-day Turkey. 

Why has Santa Claus become more famous than St. Nicolas?
In the 16th century, the large part of Europe was undergoing the Protestant Reformation, so Martin Luther and his followers decided to forbid St. Nicolas and replace him with Christkindl, a gift-bringer at Christmas to emphasize that all good gifts come directly from God. It took centuries until the old tradition to celebrate the St. Nicolas Day with gift-giving was wiped out in many Christian countries. However, long before it happened, Dutch supposedly introduced the old tradition into its colonies (including New Amsterdam which later became New York), so Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) emerged from the United States in the 19th century and was later popularized in Europe upon the liberation from Nazis during the WWII and across the the rest of the world with the expansion of Coca-Cola. 

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