Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who died on this day at age 76 in the year 346. St. Nicholas is recognized as the defender of Orthodoxy by the Eastern Christian Church, the Orthodox Church, which originally formed in Constantinople, apart from the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Nicholas, true to unity through diversity law, has unified most of modern day Christianity to recognize his Feast Day in some form or fashion. He even has taken over the original and basically forgotten Roman Catholic Saint of this day, Saint Aemilianus, who's only claim to fame was being flayed alive. Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, is the Patron Saint of children, sailors, fishermen, nudists, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, prostitutes and repentant thieves, which makes him a far more interesting character. Perhaps this is where the notion of Jolly St. Nick comes from?
Things where going rather well for Saint Nicholas throughout history until the Protestant Reformation came roaring into town, burning churches, monastaries and humans who didn't see eye to eye with their puritanical beliefs (sometimes conveniently masking opposing political views). Of course a Patron Saint of nudists, sailors, pawnbrokers, prostitutes and repentant thieves just wouldn't sit well in this austere society. That's when Martin Luther came up the idea of promoting a figure to be known as Christkind, which is German for Christ Child, an angelic figure to combat the more earthy St. Nicholas loved by the heathen Catholics.
Christkind, known in Italy as Gesu Bambinno (Baby Jesus), became all the rage, and today has evolved into a more human angelic figure in Germany, a blond bombshell beauty contest winner!
Ah, leave it to the human element to pierce the walls of purity with its need to express it's earthy and mostly naughty nature! During Luther's promotion of Christkind, a new, more human legend was born to replace the veneration of St. Nick without the penalty of death being attached. Introducing Kris Kringle, the Christmas gift giver.
Kris became a hit with the Germans and the Dutch; however, in cheeky Puritan England, the ancestors of Monty Python decided to create their own character, Old Christmas.
He is "old" because of the antiquity of the feast itself, which its defenders saw as a good old Christian custom that should be kept. Allegory was popular in 17th century England, and so "old Christmas" was given a voice to protest his exclusion, along with the form of a rambunctious, jolly old man. A book dating from the time of the Commonwealth, The Vindication of CHRISTMAS or, His Twelve Yeares' Observations upon the Times involved "Old Christmas" advocating a merry, alcoholic Christmas and casting aspersions on the charitable motives of the ruling Puritans.
Old Christmas quickly evolved from Old Father Christmas into just Father Christmas during the Victorian Age, and was made famous by Charles Dickens in his book A Christmas Carol. Meanwhile, back at the American ranch a curious blend of cultures and beliefs began to form an American Commercial Cultural Icon of the Ages from the DNA of Saint Nicholas, Christkind, Kris Kringle, the Dutch Sinterklaas and Old Father Christmas. Ladies and Knights, I give you the name above all other names...Santa Claus! Of course, the English still hold onto Father Christmas, being that they are English.
Santa Claus continues to put a knot in the panties of the puritan religious believers of all faiths, but human nature cannot be repressed. So today, if you still remember the original gift-giver, Saint Nicholas, or fully embrace the American Icon of Commercialism, Santa Claus, remember to give thanks for the diversity and creativity of human kind when we celebrate Christmas, which we assimilated from the Romans who traditionally celebrated Winter Solstice on December 25th.
Sir Hook the Old Father Christmas of Warrick