Above is an altarpiece, completed circa 1510 and pictures St. Nicholas(left), whom we celebrate today. St. Nick is widely hailed as the inspiration for Santa Claus although his true identity was that of a 4th century Catholic bishop who preached Christianity and practiced model charity in what is present day Turkey. 502 years after the altarpiece’s completion, Catholic bishops still wear the same vestments.
Note that while St. Nicholas already had many traditions associated with his feast in the 1500’s, he is not depicted as the Santa Claus that we know today; rather, he is painted with the chasuble and bishop’s miter(hat) with crosier(staff). Below is the famous painting completed in 1668 by Dutch artist Jan Steen which depicts boys and girls checking to see what gifts St. Nick had delivered to their homes and stuffed in their shoes on the morning of December 6th. It is clear that the girl(painted as if she is a little adult) was on the “nice list” and the boy was not. The most famous story of St. Nick is his gift of the dowry for three women. A poor father was unable to provide the funds for his three daughters to get married, which would likely mean they would have to turn to prostitution. So in his humility, St. Nicholas quietly and secretly delivered three small purses with enough money to cover the dowry.
St. Nicholas is a fantastic example of Christian charity and humility for all of us to follow.