Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
The real story of Saint Nick

December 12, 2014  By Ian Robinson

So basically, a big chunk of the Christmas story is based on a tale of gruesome child cannibalism and anti-prostitution activism.

Plus fake ham and greedy capitalists.

I’m not talking about the Jesus part, but the ho-ho-ho part.

It all starts with Saint Nicholas.

If you saw Saint Nick in person, you wouldn’t think Santa.

You’d think … elf.

Because basically the guy was a midget.

Turns out that the Greek guy born in Turkey, who gave rise to the Santa Claus story, was barely five feet tall.
And he had a busted nose like he was a tough little guy.

I like to think he was like one of those short Irish dudes you run into in bars sometimes who don’t know they’re little and, as a consequence, get in lots of fights.

Only advantage guys like that have in a brawl is that not a lot of us practice punching down.

We know Saint Nick was vertically challenged and had a tough-guy face because some scientists got to photograph bones in Italy believed to belong to the saint, who died in the year 343 A.D.

He was actually buried in Turkey, but some Christian types dug him up and took the bits back to Italy because they were worried about an impending attack by an army of radical Islamists.

That was in 1087.

Fast forward to 2014 and just ponder the fact that 927 years later, we got Canadian boys flying fighter planes dropping bombs in Syria and Iraq on a bunch of radical Islamists.

Which is basically the same neck of the woods as Turkey.

Every time somebody younger tells me my opinions are wrong cause “things have changed,” I think how they probably flunked history.

Big time.

Anyway, back in the day, pilgrimages to visit the graves of famous religious figures was big business.
I like to picture kids in 1087 wearing articles of clothing that read: “My parents went to Saint Nick’s grave and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

But that’s probably just wishful thinking.

Saint Nick’s remains got divided between two towns in Italy, so they got the pilgrimage trade after that.
Saint Nick would probably have remained one of those saints that Catholic scholars knew about but who was pretty much unknown to the bulk of humanity.

Oh, he was by all accounts a good guy. He was a rich kid whose parents died in a famine and he was raised by an uncle who was a bishop and brought Nick into God business.

Nicholas apparently took his vast wealth and gave it all away.

Oh, and he did the usual miracle thing, apparently.

There’s a great story about him that makes me devoutly grateful for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Apparently, Saint Nick was visiting an area hit by famine, when he dreamed about a butcher who had killed three little children, salted them down and stuck them into a barrel to cure.

He meant to sell them off as ham.

Saint Nicholas resurrected the boys through prayer … a much better fate than being the centre of a faux-ham sandwich.

But it was the thing with the gold and the girls that made him.

Apparently, there was this poor guy with three daughters.

Back then, you had to pay guys to take your daughters off your hands by giving them what’s known as a dowery.
Not just the homely ones.

You had to pay guys to take the good-looking ones who could cook, too.

Because the guy was so poor, the girls were never going to get husbands, and the only job available to them was prostitute.

Then, as now, you didn’t find a lot of guys urging their children onto that career path.

So Nicholas would toss gold coins through the window of the poor guy’s house every time a daughter was about to come of age, allowing the dad to pay some respectable fellow to marry them.

Legend has it, the coins landed in shoes or stockings drying in front of the fireplace and whammo!

Ladies and gentlemen, we got ourselves a legend.

And thanks to a guy named Clement Moore, in 1822, we got the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas which you probably know as The Night Before Christmas.

Moore was a professor of Biblical languages at a religious school.

We already know where he got the rhyme: “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

The North Pole residence came courtesy a 19th century cartoonist, along with the Naughty/Nice books that allowed generations of parents to threaten their children.

Then capitalism kicked in.

Coca Cola started using Santa in iconic ads.

The department store Montgomery Ward used to give out free colouring books to kids as a way to lure parents into their stores.

But some cost-cutting genius thought: “These damned colouring books cost money. We should make our own colouring book.”

And they tasked a copywriter in their ad department to come up with a Christmas story to be turned into a colouring book and handed out to the rug rats … and he came up with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Just think … if only one of these things hadn’t happened, Christmas as we know it wouldn’t have happened.

And it all goes back to a Greek midget with a busted nose with a distaste for prostitution and cannibalism.​

Print this page


Stories continue below