Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas:
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Ἅγιος Νικόλαος, Hágios Nikólaos, Latin: Sanctus Nicolaus); (15 March 270 – 6 December 343), also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός, Nikólaos ho Thaumaturgós). His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas.
The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. In addition, some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other Reformed churches have been named in honor of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.
The historical Saint Nicholas, as known from strict history: He was born at Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). In his youth he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Palestine area. Shortly after his return he became Bishop of Myra and was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian. He was released after the accession of Constantine and was present at the Council of Nicaea. In 1087, Italian merchants stole his body from Myra, bringing it to Bari in Italy.
Were they repentant thieves, I wonder?
In any case, according to the venerable and often-amusing volume, Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour, appropriate beverages for the feast include:
- The traditional Bisschopswijn, a spiced wine
- Anything with rum (patron saint of sailors, you know), but the book recommends a rum toddy
- A "St. Nicholas's Helper" of hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps
- A Sankt Nikolai Abbey Tripel beer
- A Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil wine
The traditional toast: "To the real Santa Claus, scourge of heretics and champion of the poor: May he help us defend the faith and assist the needy."
"Scourge of heretics"?
In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea; the 151st attendee was listed as "Nicholas of Myra of Lycia". There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian, defender of the Orthodox Christian position, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed. Tradition has it that he became so angry with the heretic Arius during the Council that he struck him in the face.
Photo: Erlend Bjørtvedt (CC-BY-SA)