You all know Father Christmas (Noel Baba) who brings you gifts on Christmas Eve (or New years eve here in Turkey). But did you know that he lived in Turkey,not the North Pole?
Most children in the West are told that Santa Claus or old Saint Nick hails from the North Pole. That he lives there year round with his wife, his team of reindeer and lots of crafty elves who fashion gifts in time for Christmas. We adults know that given the choice, St. Nick would choose to dwell in a warm climate rather than the blustery northernmost point on earth. And, in fact, old Father Christmas did in exist as a historic personality living under the warm Lycian sun as Bishop of Myra. His church and ex-tomb still remain as places of pilgrimage in the Turkish town of Demre (known also as Kale, near Antalya).
Yes that’s right! Father Christmas was born in Patara on the Mediterranean Coast 1700 years ago. He spent all his life in Myra/Demre near Patara.
Patara was a port town at that time. There was a wealthy family trading in wheat were living in this town. A boy was born to this family and he was called Nicholas, meaning “the victorious hero”. Nicholas spent a very happy childhood in this well-to-do environment. However, his parents died unexpectedly when he was quite young. He inherited the entire family fortune. After wondering for a while what to do with all this money he decided to help the poor people around him, but he wanted to do it in secret so he used to climb on the roofs of people’s houses and drop coins down the chimney. One day, a citizen caught him in the act and his good nature was revealed to the town. Sharing his wealth with the people who were in need not only made him content, but made all those people happy. He even sold his house and lived in a smaller one.
The people of Myra were so poor that parents were not even able to take care of their children. Children were left on their own in the streets. Adults who didn’t have a job were begging all day long for a piece of bread. The sick, old and lonely people were leading a desperate life in the streets. Nicholas, who was aware of all this misery, founded an orphanage for the children, a kitchen for the poor, a hospital for the sick and a nursing home for the old.
Upon his death, a memorial was erected in the town but it was many years later before he gained the holiest of titles of Saint Nicholas. He also became the patron saint of sailors but more specifically of children as he was remembered for giving them nuts, fruit and sweets for good behavior.
Over the years, the true story of Santa Claus has become hidden in the shadows, known only by those who decide to trace back the history of St Nicholas or Christmas day traditions, I had no idea until I came to live in Turkey.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the church of St Nicholas ,where I got a wonderful insight into the humble beginnings of the man who would later be known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Noel Baba. Located in the town of Demre (far away from the North pole!), the church is open every day and on the 6th of December, special celebrations are held for the day dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is also the church which holds his original sarcophagus although his bones were stolen in the 10thcentury by Italian sailors and they are now encrypted in a church on the south east coast of Italy.
Over the centuries, the tomb of Saint Nicholas became a place of pilgrimage for Christians traveling from around the Mediterranean Sea. Then gradually, other European cultures adopted the popular saint, and added their own twists to his image. The Santa Claus we see today appears to have evolved out of a Scandinavian version of the saint, who was later popularized by 19th century American writers and U.S. companies like Coca Cola, which used Santa’s image to promote their products.
But now you know he didn’t have magic powers or flying reindeer, he was just a good man who gave gifts.