Monday, December 14, 2009

Odd Santa

Try to picture this setting.

First off, 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 this is, after all, the Christmas season. And some years ago I was in this tropical paradise and had a chance to meet Santa. The real Santa.

Everyone knows that ol’ S. Claus lives up in the frozen north with Mrs Claus and a houseful of industrious, non-union elves, not to mention a stable of reindeer, and that Santa has always lived there.

Not true.

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 lived right here in the hot, sunny Turkish Riviera, though the name would not have been familiar to him.

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. They also took his name and sort of Dutchified it: St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas.

When the Dutch lived in New Amsterdam 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 to a corpulent chap in a red suit who 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. 

This week, if you’ve had the experience, the joys as well as the plain old hard work, of raising a teenager – and yes, I’ve been there, done that – check out the clever comments of A Mom on Spin.


Rosaria Williams said...

Yes, St. Nicholas changed around, with many variations all around the globe. It goes to show that people will always adapt a good thing to fit their needs.

Tess Kincaid said...

Fascinating post on Nicholas. Enjoy the sun. Looks gorgeous!

Berowne said...

>> Fascinating post on Nicholas. <<

Many thanx, Willow.

Berowne said...

Lakeviewer: Yes, St. Nicholas changed around, with many variations all around the globe.

Right. I'll never forget being in Tokyo at Christmas time. The shops, along with just about everything else, were full of Christmas memorabilia, souvenirs and products of all sorts, including sone religious icons. It seems that the real significance of all this was lost on the Japanese public; it was just colorful stuff that one displayed at Christmas time.
That's the way it was some years ago. Don't know if they still do it to such a degree.

The Peach Tart said...

Interesting history about St. Nick.

Irish Gumbo said...

I dig the icon pic, especially. Something about that type of art work that really grabs me. I think I would like to see the bones, myself. Even if they aren't really the Saint's bones, I find it fascinating that people believe so strongly in relics and the like.

(BTW: I had not yet considered writing in iambic pentameter. Right now, my writing is very 'from the hip', and I want to resist the urge to codify it, for now. Thank you for the suggestion!)

Berowne said...

>>(BTW: I had not yet considered writing in iambic pentameter.) <<

Reason I suggested it is that it's a fascinating challenge for any writer or poet. It looks so easy: a quatrain is just four lines so how hard could it be? But to create true iambic pentameter in such a brief setting is actually rather difficult: lines rhyming ABAB, the correct number of beats to each line, all in the service of solid, relevant meaning. When done correctly it's a thing of beauty -- as Will Shakespeare was well aware.

Berowne said...

>> The Peach Tart: Interesting history about St. Nick. <<

Thanks. And a merry Christmas to you and, as the saying goes, yours.

French Fancy... said...

I always thought it was the Victorian English who took the green coat from St Nicolaus and gave him the jolly red one that we now associate him with. I suppose there are many variations on this.

Berowne said...

>>I suppose there are many variations on this.<<

Yes, one thing I've learned in doing research on so many of the films I've worked on that have to do with history is that there are usually several versions of just about anything that happened in the past. I guess we can be fairly sure, however, that there was a St. Nick and he became Santa Claus. Merry Christmas, FF!

Madame DeFarge said...

One wonders why Santa ever went north if he had that to look at every day.

Berowne said...

Well, that's where the elves were, you see. :-)

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