Magazine article Geographical

Late, Great Geographers

Magazine article Geographical

Late, Great Geographers

Article excerpt

Santa Claus

Seasonal figure Santa Claus, the world's most infrequent yet accomplished courier service, displays an enviable geographical knowledge every Christmas Eve

Who was the man behind the myth?

The origins of the man in red, or rather Saint Nicholas, can be traced back to the Bishop of Myra, Asia Minor, in the fourth century. Born in the Lycian seaport city of Patara, in his youth he travelled to Palestine and Egypt. As bishop he was persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs by Roman emperor Diocletian but was released during the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great and attended the first Council of Nicaea in 325.

How did he become famous? Long after his death, the bishop's reputation spread far and wide, mainly thanks to Italian sailors who, in 1087, stole his remains from his church at Myra. His shrine there had been well known since the sixth century, but taking him to their homeland and enshrining him in a new basilica in Bari, ensured that tales of his good works came to Europe. During the Middle Ages, as stories of his kindness to infants and even miracles spread, he became known as patron saint of children, sailors, unmarried girls, pawn brokers and merchants and also of Greece, Sicily and Russia. Like many early saints, he was never officially canonised by the Vatican, but proclaimed one by the people. The church did recognise his status however, making 6 December his feast day.

How did Saint Nick become Santa Claus? After the Reformation, the cult of Saint Nicholas diminished in Protestant countries of Europe except in Holland, where `Sinterklaas' lived on, fused with Nordic folktales of a magician who rewarded good children with gifts, in the 17th century, Dutch colonists carried this tradition across the Atlantic where Sinterklaas mutated to Santa Claus as the English-speaking people adopted the legend. …

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