Nicholas was born in 270 AD in Patara, in Turkey. His parents taught him Christian values, he became priest and then served as bishop of Mitra, in Asia Minor. Like other Christians, he was persecuted by Diocletian and then pardoned by Constantine. In 325 he participated in Council of Nicea. He died of old age on 06 December 343 in Myra.
During his life he was the protector of the children, the needy and the sailors and performed various good works. For example, he saved three girls from a noble family fallen into disgrace. The father, who wanted to maintain his lifestyle, decided to prostitute them, but at night Saint Nicholas threw in their bedroom three sacks of gold (which in some depiction of Saint Nicholas are replaced by three balls), that contributed to their dowry.
Both in Myra and in Bari from the tomb of the saint a liquid substance, a water of extreme purity that for the most devout is myrrh, with healing powers, but a scientific evaluation claims both moisture or capillary of stones and marbles of the site.
After the conquest by the Normans, Bari lost the political role in the Mediterranean basin, that’s why some sailors from Bari stole the relics of Saint Nicholas on 09 May 1087 and brought them to Bari. From that moment on the Apulian city became a place of pilgrimage, bringing a significant economic inducement.
Saint Nicholas is venerated in many European countries: in Germany, during Christmas time young Germans dress up as Saint Nicholas to collect offerings for the poor; in Holland and in Flanders children leave carrots and hay for the horse of Saint Nicholas, hoping that the latter will come carrying gifts.
Saint Nicholas takes on different facets in each country, while retaining his fundamental characteristics, such as that of the defender of the weak and those who suffer injustice.
The Dutch exported overseas, to the United States, the cult of Saint Nicholas when they founded New Amsterdam, the New York.
In some American writings we find the description of what today is Santa Claus. The first writer was Washington Irving in 1809, in History of New York, who told about how the first Dutch settlers relied on Saint Nicholas during their journey to America. Then Clement Clark Moore in 1822 in poetry A visit from St Nicholas talked about a cheerful chubby gentleman who travels on a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. In 1931 from the pencil of Huddon Sundblom’s for a Coke commercial the image of Santa Claus arose as it is in the imagination of young and old: an old man with a smiling ruddy face riding his sleigh carrying gifts.
Thanks to the American soldiers landed after the World War II spread through the European countries Père Noël in France, Babbo Natale in Italy and Father Christmas in England.
A legend born in the 3rd century of a man, who gave to the most needy, became Santa Claus, who every year flies on his sleigh carrying gifts.