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Greek Customs and Traditions


Santa Claus - St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is one of the most important saints in all the Christian churches, and is important as the patron saint of  sailors, travelers, bakers, merchants, and most importantly children.

In Greece and Cyprus he is most often seen as the patron saint of sailors. In Greek tradition it is believed that St. Nicholas's beard always drips with seawater and his face with perspiration as he fights to save ships at sea from disaster.  If you look on any Greek ship you are likely to find an icon of St. Nicholas who is protecting the ship from disaster.

The origin of Santa Claus is in St. Nicholas. He was born in Asia Minor at Patara in the province of Lycia, at a time when the region was entirely  Greek in origin.  The region lost its' Greek presence only recently during the forced expulsion of millions of Greeks and the murder of hundreds of thousands at the hands of the Turks during the mostly unknown Asia Minor disaster of the last century.   In Lycia  St. Nicholas was the bishop of Mira during the 4th century.  He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity.

There are several legends about St. Nicholas which include that he was imprisoned and tortured during the massive persecutions under the emperor Diocletian, only to be released by Constantine. Another legend talks about how he was at the council of Nicea in 325 AD where he was a delegate. 

St Nicholas generosity to the poor is widely known.  The giving of gifts is attributed to him.  A Greek legend from Myra talked about how gifts would appear mysteriously at the doors of the poor houses at the time of Christmas.  This would occur year after year but when St. Nicholas passed away the gifts no longer appeared!  It was then realized that the gifts were being brought by St. Nicholas to the poor children. This is one of the reasons that gifts are exchanged. 

Another reason that gifts are exchanged is that their is a legend how three daughters were so poor that they did not have the required dowry to be married.  St. Nicholas pitied the girls and gave them 1 gold piece each which allowed them to be married. 

The kindness of St. Nicholas to the three daughters is known as "The visit of St. Nicholas" and was brought over by the Dutch. In the year 1822 Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick."  This poem  was later published as "The Night Before Christmas."  The poem that Moore wrote  is considered to be the basis  for the modern day image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit  bearing gifts.

It is unfortunate that the modern day image of Santa Claus has overtaken the true image of St. Nicholas. The image of the modern day Santa Claus  is a caricature of a poem and nothing else. St. Nicholas was one of the greatest bishops and his true story should be known.  His whole life he lived for the poor and did all he could do for them.  He so profoundly affected the poor that his death was seen as a death of great loved one, so many stories flourished about him that some live on till this day as legends over 15 centuries after his death!

The Dutch word for St. Nicholas is "Sinterklaas", which became  Santa Claus in English. St. Nicholas is celebrated on December the 6th by Greeks and this date marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

Merry Christmas - Kala Hristougena!


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