Meet the real St. Nicholas: Holland expert shares her St. Nicholas collection

Everyone knows Santa Claus comes down the chimney to reward good little boys and girls on Christmas, but that’s not the whole story.

The real story began in the third century, in what is now Turkey.St. Nicholas as the patron saint of Beit Jala, Palestine, where he is known as the protector of Beit Jala; icon written by Ian Knowles.
A young man heard of a poor man who could not afford the dowries, so his three daughters could marry. As the story goes, the bishop — who would go on to become Bishop of Myra and ,eventually, St. Nicholas — secretly tossed bags of gold through an open window of the man’s home on three separate nights. The bags of gold (or balls of gold as some versions of the story say) landed in stockings or shoes left out to dry.

The Holland-based St. Nicholas Center works to educate people of faith, and the wider public, about the true St. Nicholas, and why he is important in today’s world. Co-founder Carol Myers has dedicated her life to promoting the example of St. Nicholas, sharing  images of some favorite pieces from her vast St. Nicholas collection.
Lovely soft felted wool figure made by Irina Ivanisova, Kyiv, Ukraine.
St. Nicholas as the patron saint of Beit Jala, Palestine, where he is known as the protector of Beit Jala; icon written by Ian Knowles.Just for fun—this poster shows a St. Nicholas circus; circuses frequently are held in honor of St. Nicholas in Belgium.

Angels accompany St. Nicholas in Poland; carving by Andrez Wojtczak, Poland.One of my favorites because he has such a friendly, smiling face. Carving by Tim Jumper, Hingham, Massachusetts
St. Nicholas is the patron saint and protector of children, sailors, and unmarried women (among many others). However, the saintly gift-giver’s day is NOT Dec. 24. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated the evening of Dec. 5.

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (literally: St. Nicholas) is said to travel by ship from his home in Spain each November. He rides a white horse and is accompanied by his helpers. Every year, in Dutch homes and businesses, actors portray Sinterklaas and his helpers. The “Zwarte Piet” have become controversial in recent years for their use of Black stereotypes. These days, the characters are frequently omitted or adjusted.
I Love the long beard on this chalkware piece from Vaillancourt Folk Art.St. Nicholas with the children rescued from the evil butcher—the most popular story in France and most commonly shown throughout Western Europe with children in the evil butcher’s pickling tub; fused glass from Lorraine, France.This antique wood carving probably came from a chapel in Belgium; it shows again the children St. Nicholas rescued.St. Nicholas is the only saint shown in three-dimensional statuary in Russian Orthodox churches; this one was carved by Vladimir Klimov, Moscow, Russia.
Two of St. Nicholas’ stories are told in this carving by Maria Lea Cerdá, Venezuela: the gold providing dowry to save the young women from slavery and the three children resuscitated after being killed by an evil butcher.
Dutch settlers in America brought with them the tradition of Sinterklaas the gift-giver, which has morphed into Santa Claus. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," more commonly known as "T’was the Night Before Christmas" popularized our modern idea of Santa as a “right jolly old elf” with a “little round belly” that “shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.”
This piece is special to me—he’s the signature image for www.stnicholascenter.org! These unusual dough figures are from Lorraine, France. Such figures are common there and again show the children in the tub.
This cornhusk St. Nicholas is the very first one I found. He’s from Czechoslovakia, an indication of his age!This stone carving, with the three gold balls, is by Joseph Chiffriller, one of the youth trained in stonework at St. John the Divine in New York.
This gourd perfectly forms a miter for Julie Rossetti’s St. Nicholas. She’s from North Canton, Ohio.
This is modeled after the first image of St. Nicholas in America—Alexander Anderson’s 1810 engraving published in the New-York Historical Society’s broadside for their first St. Nicholas Festival. St. Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas, rides a horse in the Netherlands. Papier mache figure made by Susan Brack, Liberty, Indiana, from a German Anton Reiche chocolate mold dated around 1930.
Regardless of what you call him — St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, or Santa — he is a model for generosity and remembering others before yourself , a legacy made all the richer by his history.
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