German tradition of Saint Nicholas
Germans insist on the narrative of Saint Nicholas going around the world on his sledge and filling the boots and socks of the little (and big) ones with small presents and sweets in the night before the 6th of December. When we think of him we are likely inclined to have the picture of a slightly obese older man in mind. This man is dressed in red with a long white beard.
Myth of Saint Nicholas in Turkey
However, the myth of Saint Nicholas is also based in Turkey, particularly in Patara (today´s Demre):
Born around year 270 he was one of the most known Christian saints in Latin and Eastern Church. At age 19 he was ordained as a priest by his uncle, bishop of Myra, and became Abt of the monastery Sion in the near of Myra. After his return from a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Palestine area he followed in the steps of his uncle and became the bishop of Myra. He was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian. He was released after the accession of Constantine.
Saint Nicholas´ reputation evolved through his legendary habit of secret gift giving, which gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus.
Legend of Saint Nicholas
In one of the most famous legends around his person, he helped a poor man, who was willing to give his three daughters away for prostitution, because he could not afford a proper dowry for them. This would have result in remaining unmarried. And, even if they had not became prostitutes, in those days unmarried women would have been assumed to be prostitutes. Hearing of their misery, Nicholas decided to help while – in light of his modesty – wanting to keep it secret. So, saying no more: During the night he went to their house and threw three purses filled with gold coins through the open window. And there we have it!
Today, commercialized by Coca-Cola, he is unforgettable during Christmas season. Although the religious context got a little bit lost in Germany, it is still a celebration of love and the family. By the way, in liberal and secular families in Turkey, Baba Noel give gifts to the children as well. But he is more a symbol for celebrating New Year in Turkey (previous blogpost recommended).