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Santa Claus, Part 1 Backstory

From Audio: Christmas Past Classic: Backstory — Santa Claus, part 1

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station description The fascinating backstories to the Christmas traditions you cherish.
Christmas Past
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Duration: 05:54
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Act one. The Life and Legend of ST Nicholas. Let's start with the basics. ST. Nicholas was a real person, and he's recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Beyond that, there's not much we can say for sure. Yeah, the first thing to say is that it's really hard to tell what's historical on. What's legend. Bruce David Forbes is a professor of religious studies at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and he's the author of the book Christmas. A Candid History. I mean, what we really know historically is the century, uh, meaning the three hundreds, that he lived in, what's now Turkey, and that apparently he became a bishop. And then there are a lot of other standard things that were said about his story. But, uh, it's just unclear how much of it is historical and how much is legend. It is said that he attended the Nice Scene Council, the Council of Nicosia, which in the history of Christianity is one of the most important councils. But we really don't know if it happened. The first nice Ian council was when the Emperor Constantine called a conference of all the bishops to resolve important points on theological questions. And one of the legends within a legend has it that at the council, one of the other attendees, a man named Arias, got into a heated argument with Nicholas Arias promoted an idea that others considered heretical. It angered Nicholas so much that he punched arias out right there on the floor of the council with Emperor Constantine watching. Apparently he had to spend the night in jail as a result. Now remember, this is a guy who knows if you've been naughty or nice. Constantine was the first Christian Roman emperor. The rulers who came before him ordered for the persecution of Christians, and several accounts say that Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured during that time, maybe for a long as three years. Another part of his legend is that he was born to wealthy parents who died from the plague when he was young. He was the only child of a wealthy family, and one of his pledges to himself was to give away all his money before he died. There are lots of great legends, but the one most common is a good symbol of what he became to represent And that is the story of, uh, really a widowed father who had three daughters. And he tells them in tears that because he has no money, he can't provide dowries for them to get married. They probably will not be able to get married. So they they faced a future of slavery or worse. And ST Nicholas overhears this and so in the dead of night comes by one night and drops a bag of gold through the window, which allows one daughter to have a dour is. She can get married another night, another bag of gold. On the third night, the father waits up to see who's been dropping gold into the house. He discovers Nicholas, but Nicholas swears the father to secrecy, saying that all the credit should go to God and not him. By the way, there are later revisions of this story that say he threw the money down the chimney. But this is impossible because houses didn't have chimneys back then, and another variation has the money landing in a stocking that was hanging out to dry. Sound familiar? Let's take a step back these days we associate ST Nicholas mainly with his generosity. But as Professor Forbes tells it, there are three distinct roles that he's played. One is that he's a protector, kind of a guardian angel. Second, he becomes a disciplinarian, trying to find out if Children are not here nice and third. He's a generous gift giver, and I think those three aspects art are involved all the way through this history, from the beginnings of ST Nicholas to the present. But I think the emphasis changes, and the early part, I think, emphasized that Nicholas is a guardian protecting people. This reputation as a sort of guardian angel and miracle worker is part of how his popularity spread from Eastern to Western Europe. He became the patron saint of seafarers, and there are legends of him rescuing doomed ships and bringing drowned sailors back toe life. He was also the patron saint of merchants, archers, brewers, pawnbrokers and travelers. And there's one story about his protection over travelers that sounds like something right out of Grimm's fairy tales. Yes, it's not a sweetest story of the other one, because it's kind of grotesque. Yes, but apparently three boys who are sent by their father to get a blessing from Nicholas, a horrible innkeeper here is that they have money, kills them, and it's grotesque. Most grotesque form cuts them up, puts them in assault tub for the curing of meat. ST. Nicholas learns about what's happened. Comes to confront the innkeeper. Yeah, most horrible part of that some stories is that the innkeeper even tries to serve this meat to Nicholas. But Nicholas finds out what happens, confronts the innkeeper, calls him to repent, miraculously heals the boys. And in fact, in some versions, uh, not only brings them back to life, brings them hold, but with their clothing and the money and everything intact. Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are stories of him multiplying stockpiles of grain during a famine fighting toe, lower taxes, rescuing condemned men's seconds before being beheaded, single handedly destroying the temple of Artemus. It goes on and on and on. It's believed that he died on December 6th in the year 343. He was 73 years old, and so December 6th eventually became ST Nicholas Day. In the years after his death, his legend and popularity spread and grew across Europe. He became so popular that more than seven centuries later some Italian merchants got a wild and crazy idea. Now, just to be clear, this one is not a legend. This really happened, someone.
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