Christmas time inspires me to grab some book off the shelf that I have been meaning to read. Often it is a biography; they are highly informative, easy to plow straight through, highly enjoyable, and usually have some form of ultimate redemption. Just the way the holidays should be.
This year though, I am opting for a new book: The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myrna. Its a biography, so that works and it has the added advantage of contributing to knowledge of the traditions we celebrate at Christmas. The book also rings in at just under 250 pages making it a perfect read for Christmas Eve morning and Christmas Day afternoon.
Santa Claus is, of course, an icon of the materialistically centered Christmas we know today and has little to do with the actual historical figure. But still, there is some trace of the real saint behind the rosy cheeks, reindeer, elves, and the North Pole. That trace begins in 4th Century, in Myrna, a town located in what is today called Turkey. Nicholas of Myrna, or later Saint Nicholas was widely known for his virtues and may have even lifted an entire family permanently out of poverty by his great generosity. Yet, in addition to his unusual generosity Nicholas was also a dedicated churchmen and orthodox theologian. Indeed, one story indicates he may have actually punched the heretic Arius for his unorthodox views on the Trinity. But holiday fights aside, Nicholas became and integral influence in events that would significantly impact the history and development of the Christian church, including the Council of Nicaea, the destruction of the temple to Artemis in Myra, and a miraculous rescue of three falsely accused military officers. Later, Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors, merchants and thieves, as well as France, Russia, and Greece.And this is the story English aims to tell.
Weaving together the best historical and archaeological evidence available with the folklore and legends handed down through generations, English creates a stunning image of this much venerated Christian saint. With prose as enjoyable as it is informative, he shows why the life–and death–of Nicholas of Myra so radically influenced the formation of Western history and Christian thought, and did so in ways many have never realized.