What is myre

Why does Santa Claus bring presents?

Status: December 6th, 2020 11:59 p.m.

Those who were good will have a sweet surprise in their boots on December 6th. Where does the St. Nicholas custom come from? Who was the saint to whom many churches are consecrated? And is his red coat really a Coca-Cola invention?

In the figure of Saint Nicholas, two historical figures are fused into one. Firstly, Nikolaus von Myra, bishop of a city in what is now Turkey. He lived in the third century. On the other hand, Nikolaus von Sion, a place near Myra, from the sixth century.

Who was Nikolaus von Myra?

This is how a French painter imagined Saint Nicholas in the Middle Ages.

The legends about the life of the two men are woven into the mythical figure of St. Nicholas of Myra. He is said to have performed numerous miracles, including softening a storm and bringing several dead back to life. A story tells of how he helps an impoverished father of three daughters: The desperate father is about to send his daughters into prostitution.

Nikolaus helps by secretly throwing gold pieces through the window at night. The myth of the merciful helper and protector, who gives presents to children in the night without being recognized, is born.

Saint Nicholas: patron saint of seafarers

In the Middle Ages Nicholas was one of the most popular saints, in Russia he even rose to become a national saint. As the patron saint of seafarers and merchants, Saint Nicholas becomes the patron saint of the Hanseatic League. A number of St. Nicholas' churches in the Hanseatic cities, including Rostock, Wismar and Stralsund, still bear witness to this today. In Hamburg, the St. Nikolai memorial commemorates the victims of war and tyranny under National Socialism.

Martin Luther railed against St. Nicholas Day

From the 12th century on, people celebrate St. Nicholas on December 6th, when they give each other presents. But during the Reformation, Martin Luther railed against the cult of saints and the giving of Nicholas as a "childish thing". He tries to replace it with Christmas gifts. But not only in the Catholic area do people cling to the custom that they have come to love.

AUDIO: The house of Santa Claus - and other Christmas stories (24 min)

Knecht Ruprecht, the "bad" companion

However, from the 19th century at the latest, St. Nicholas is not only a kind bringer of gifts, but also a punisher for naughty children. Often he is accompanied in precisely this role by a terrifying man who is supposed to scare children and, depending on the region, has a different name: Knecht Ruprecht, Pulterklas or Rupsack. Instead of a sack of presents, he usually has a rod with him. But he did not always play the role of evil in history: In the 19th century it was assumed that the Nikolaus helper could be traced back to pagan rituals: In winter he was on the road to drive away evil spirits.

Other theories, however, paint him much darker: For example, Knecht Ruprecht is attributed to a priest who is said to have cursed children celebrating Christmas and dancing in 1021. Others point to an origin in the later Middle Ages, when the child fright was used to support educational measures. In any case, he is seen as an opponent to St. Nicholas.

With fur hat or bishop's miter

In southern Germany, Saint Nicholas appears to this day mostly in the traditional bishop's robe with a staff and miter, the high bishop's cap. In the north, on the other hand, the idea of ​​Santa Claus as a cozy old man with a long white beard and thick red coat has prevailed - and is equal to that of Santa Claus.

VIDEO: Nicholas in the 60s: with Sinterklaas through Amsterdam (3 min)

Incidentally, it was not Coca-Cola who gave him this look, but the German emigrant Thomas Nast. He drew Nikolaus alias Santa Claus in the USA as early as 1862 with a white beard, red coat and fur cap. It was not until 1931 that Coca-Cola began to use the figure of Santa Claus and used it for an advertising campaign.

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Hamburg Journal | December 6th, 2020 | 19:30 o'clock