We all know a story of Santa Claus, an old chubby man with a long white beard and hair that brings gifts trought chimney on Christmas Eve. Althought today he is know for living in North Pole in his village with Elfs and reindeers pulling him on sledges, the real story is quite different and suprisingly origins in Turkey.
St. Nicholas was born, raised and died in Turkey during the 4th century. He is known by name Noel Baba.
Nicholas of Myra was an ethnic Greek, born in Patara, who spent most of his life in the town of Myra, which name derived from word myrrh (one of the three gifts that three “magi” brought to Christ child) He was the son of a very rich family. When his parents passed away, Nicholas inherited a fortune. Later, he became the bishop of Myra, now Demre, near Antalya.
A Byzantine basilica in Demre honors his memory, and the tale of his generosity is unforgotten on these shores. People still tell of a bishop tip-toeing through the streets of old Myra to toss bags of gold through open windows or down chimneys.
He is said to have been the sole heir of a wealthy family and shared his money secretly with the less fortunate. This story told how he gave a nobleman three sacks of gold for his daughters’ dowries because he was too poor. The first two bags, he tossed through an open window. But when he found the window tightly shut on his third visit, he went down the chimney instead, dropping the sack in a red sock that was drying on the mantelpiece.
Since then, it has become tradition to put oranges in Christmas stockings to symbolize the sacks of gold. Also, the three golden balls that pawn shops use as their symbol originated from this story.
After St. Nicholas died in 323, his priests buried him in an elaborate marble sarcophagus that they periodically filled with fragrant oil. The oil dripped through cavities in the sarcophagus, and the priests established a lucrative business selling vials of it to pilgrims who believed the oil had miraculous powers.
The St. Nicholas Church was built in the fifth century in his memory, and is one of the oldest in Turkey. Tales of St. Nicholas spread westward and in April 1087 merchants from Bari, Italy, ransacked the saint’s grave and took his bones to Italy believing they would bring them wealth. Based on that event, Bari and Antalya were declared sister cities several years ago. A few remains from his sarcoghagus are on display in the Antalya museum.
In 1826 a Russian prince had the church restored by an architect. Instead of the cupola, a crosswise arch unrelated to Byzantine architecture was placed there and a belfry was added. The sarcoghagus found inside the western apse is believed to be that of St. Nicholas.
Every year on Dec. 6, the day St. Nicholas died, there’s a service in St. Nicholas Church in Demre. Dec. 6 is also the first day of a weeklong festival held in Demre sponsored by the Santa Claus Foundation.
In some countries day of St. Nicholas is celebrated by chlidren putting their stockings or shoes during the night in the window. And depending wheather they were good or bad they receive a gift in their stockings the next morning. If they were good, they will find sweets, fruits and dried nuts, if they were bad, they are usually given the birch.
There’s a bronze statue of St. Nicholas in Demre, which was erected in 1981, that looks very much like the typical Santa Claus with a long beard, a sack over his shoulder and a group of small children gathered around him.