Wait, Santa Claus is Saint Nick?

So this is Santa?When I was a growing up, my family celebrated Hanukkah.  There was no Hanukkah bush, nothing green and red ever passed through our front door, we were blue and white and latkes and candles and didn’t you know Santa wasn’t real anyway?  All the kids at my school knew this from at least kindergarten.  Then again, I went to a Jewish school so that part was easy.

So, you can imagine my confusion when I discovered that Santa Claus was also Saint Nicholas. People called him St. Nick! Saint as in SAINT as in a very religious person! But wasn’t Santa Claus about presents and not, you know, religion?

Of course I knew from TV that Jesus Christ was born on Christmas, but I also firmly believed, until I was 24-years-old, that Christmas fell each and every year on December 26th.

This is what happens when you grow up wrapped up in the warm embrace of a very specific community.  In my case, it was a lively and engaged Jewish community. I went to a Jewish school during the week, services on Saturday, my parents were friends with Jews, so of course I grew up to be completely obsessed with saints.  Really. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the biographies of Ethiopian Christian Saints and went off to graduate school to study the early Christian variety.

So the real story of Saint Nicholas, a Greek saint who was known for giving gifts and became Saint Nicholas patron saint of Russia, is one the grown up in me would like to explore. The kid in me, though, she would just have been confused.  Sure “Santa” sounded like “Saint” but “Claus” did not sound like “Nick.”  No. I thought, for a good long time, that maybe there were two different gift givers, even though my dad kept telling me Saint Nick and Santa Claus were the same person.  I didn’t believe him. I mean, how would know anyway?  He’s Jewish?!?

Frankly, to the 9-year-old in me the news that Santa was also Saint Nicholas was all just more information  that was no doubt meant to make Christmas seem even more fabulous and distant than it already was.  All I really knew was that over in some other houses, Saint Nicolas or Santa Claus or both came to town and everyone had a jolly time. On December 26th.

How about you?  Was the news that Santa was a Saint really news or something you just always knew?

photo credit:Wiki commons

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