At this Christmas time I’d like to celebrate by telling the story of the real Santa Claus, the fat guy in the red suit who lived way up there in the north somewhere.
Because the truth is – and I should shout it from the housetops, or perhaps publish it as a manifesto – he wasn’t like that at all!
Check this out: it’s very hot, the sun’s beating down; we’re in the tropics. There’s a beautiful beach and the ocean, it’s the Mediterranean, is dazzling.
This is what they call the Turkish Riviera, and the name is justified; it can hold its own with the French Riviera.
Reason I’m telling you about this place is that some years ago I was in this tropical paradise and had a chance to meet the real Santa.
Everyone knows the theory that ol’ S. Claus lived up in the Frozen North with Mama Claus and a houseful of industrious, non-union elves, not to mention a stable of reindeer, and that Santa always lived there.
Fact is, Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century and who never saw the North Pole (and maybe never saw any snow). He was born and raised right here in the hot, sunny Turkish Riviera, though the name would not have been familiar to him. Some years ago I was there working on a tourism-promotion project for the Turkish government and I thought it would be interesting to show Santa’s real home, where he was born and raised.
As for the actual saint, Nicholas, he had been famous for his generosity, for the way he gave gifts to the needy.
Well, he should have; he was a saint. :-)
He became known throughout the Christian world.
He wound up in Holland, where they changed his appearance somewhat -- he put on weight and began wearing a bright red suit. They also took his name and sort of Dutchified it: St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas. When the Dutch lived in New Amsterdam, back in the 1600s, they celebrated Christmas with Sinterklaas and all the English folks living around them thought the old fellow was sort of cool so they adopted him for their Christmas too.
They couldn’t quite pronounce “Sinterklaas” however; the closest they could get to it was “Santa Claus.”
So somehow the old fellow had metamorphosed from a 4th-century saint from the tropics to a corpulent chap in a red suit who lived at the North Pole where it was usually pretty chilly but nevertheless he was always smiling about something.
One day I was standing on that beach, working, when an Orthodox Christian priest approached and asked if I would like to see the bones of St. Nicholas? Of course, I said.
He returned with a small case, beautifully made, lined with satin, that, he assured me, contained some of the bones of the Saint.
I was aware of the thousands of kids who go to see Santa at Christmastime and here I was getting to see the real Santa.
For a fleeting moment I thought of saying that I wanted a pony for Christmas, but I couldn’t be sure Orthodox priests had a sense of humor.
I close with a loud, raucus "Merry Christmas"! to all.
1 year ago