St. Nicholas FAQs

Here are answers to some of the questions we're frequently asked.

Saint Nicholas
St. Nicholas by Ken Widing
St. Nicholas Center Collection

Was St. Nicholas real?

Yes, he was a real 4th century Greek bishop who lived in Asia Minor, along the Mediterranean coast.

Was St. Nicholas a Turk?

No, Nicholas was Greek, living in a Greek province (Lycia, Asia Minor) that was part of the Roman Empire, centuries before Turks came. The region was Lycia, now in modern-day Turkey.

Was Santa/St. Nicholas a pagan god?

The Germanic god Thor may have influenced Santa's characteristics somewhat, but Santa primarily developed from the real bishop St. Nicholas.

Did the Dutch bring Sinterklaas to the New World?

That is what most people believe, but scholars haven't found evidence of Sinterklaas traditions in the Dutch colonies. Santa Claus was mostly invented by non-Dutch elite New Yorkers in the early nineteenth century.

Santa wears red because Coca-Cola invented modern Santa, right?

Wrong, the image we know as Santa Claus was fully developed before Coca-Cola started using Santa in advertisements in 1931. Artists like N. C. Wyeth, J. D. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Norman Price and others, fully developed the life-sized, jolly Santa dressed in red with white fur trim before 1931. However, the prominence of Haddon Sundblom's Coca-Cola ads on billboards and large-format magazines cemented the image in the US.

When was Saint Nicholas canonized?

Nicholas was recognized as a saint long before the canonization was established in the 10th century and also before the Great Schism (1054) between the church in Rome and Constantinople. In Nicholas' time saints were declared by acclamation, the unanimous consent of the people.

Was St. Nicholas a priest?

Scholars believe Nicholas was one of only three persons to be selected to be a bishop without prior ordination (the others are Saint Ambrose and Saint Severus). He was most likely a monk, a lay brother. Before being consecrated as a bishop, Nicholas would have been ordained to the offices of deacon and priest, though he would not have served as such.

Was Saint Nicholas a Roman Catholic bishop?

Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the Christian Church, long before the church divided. In the 4th century there was one Church, with centers in Rome, Alexandria and Antioch; Rome was first among equals because Peter and Paul had been martyred there. Saint Nicholas was a bishop in the Greek part of the church, probably under Antioch initially, and later Constantinople. The Great Schism of 1054, long after Nicholas' death in AD 343, divided the church into the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches that we know today as Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Rite or Byzantine, and Roman Catholic. St. Nicholas may be regarded as a catholic bishop, in the same sense as the historic creeds profess "the holy catholic Church." *

Why do you show St. Nicholas as a Western bishop when he was an Eastern bishop?

We have hundreds of Eastern images of St. Nicholas throughout the site. However, he has been acculturated in many different contexts and so we show him in all of these ways. Nearly all our specifically Eastern material is illustrated with Eastern images. One of our purposes is to help people realize there is a very real relationship between St. Nicholas and the American Santa Claus. The Western image makes it easier to see that connection. (Even Orthodox Christians have printed material saying something like, "We have the real Santa Claus" etc.). Our children’s materials include both images.

Was the dowry gold tossed down a chimney?

Chimneys didn't come into use until the 13th century when they were developed in northern Europe—long after St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century. The gold would have been tossed in through an open window.

How did gift-giving move from St. Nicholas Day, December 6, to Christmas?

St. Nicholas Day was the European day for gifts from around the 11th century until the Reformation in the 16th. Then the Protestant Reformation suppressed saints, especially Nicholas. In Germany Martin Luther introduced the Christkindl (Christ Child) as gift-bringer who came at Christmas, emphasizing all good gifts coming from God. His followers later forbid Nicholas, allowing only Christkindl. There were various gift-giving traditions in the United States; it took generations before the tradition settled on Santa coming at Christmas.

Is December 6th Saint Nicholas' birthday?

December 6 is the day St. Nicholas died; saints' days always commemorate the day of death, or entrance into life eternal. Some in the Netherlands are now saying it is Sinterklaas' birthday, apparently feeling that "death" isn't appropriate for children.

Is St. Nicholas Day December 5th or the 6th?

Saints' days and other church festivals (think of Christmas or Halloween and All Hallows/All Saints) begin on the eve of the day. In the Netherlands Sinterklaas parties are all on the 5th and it has come to be regarded as "Sinterklaas" or "Pakjesavond" (present evening). St. Nicholas Day itself is December 6.

Has Santa Claus replaced St. Nicholas?

St. Nicholas and Santa can be partners: St. Nicholas helps people understand who Santa really is. St. Nicholas comes in early December; Santa comes later. There is no need to deny one or the other.

Have St. Nicholas and Santa always traveled in old-fashioned ways?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries St. Nicholas often favored the most modern and luxurious ways of travel: steamboat, balloon, train, airplane and more. Both he and Santa are now more settle in traditional modes of travel: sleigh, steamboat, on horseback or with a donkey.

Is holiday commercialism a recent development?

St. Nicholas season has been commercial since the 17th century when toys and candy were specially promoted, even in special seasonal markets. Christmas markets date back even further to at least the 1400s. Commercialism began long before Santa Claus.

Why does St. Nicholas matter?

St. Nicholas provides a healthy balance to over-commercialization by keeping a focus on compassion and care for those who are the most vulnerable and also, who, by his example, points to Christ the center of Christmas.

Is the movie Nicholas of Myra available?

Not yet. As far as we know it is still being filmed. When we know more, we'll report it here and on our Facebook page.

Where can I get St. Nicholas manna?

Only from the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. We aren't able to supply it.

Are the items in the Gallery for sale?

No, they belong to the St. Nicholas collection or they are images from churches. The only items for sale are listed in our shop.

Can I use images and text from on my website?

Please read our content usage and copyright page. And contact us about specific material.

Can we advertise on your site?

No, we accept no ads at all.

Do you do link exchanges?

No. We only link to sites that would be of particular interest to our visitors. We hope others link to us for the same reason.

* ". . . 'catholic' has been the common usage of the majority of English-speaking Churches." Note on the text of the Apostles' Creed, Praying Together, English Language Liturgical Consultation, copyright © 1988.

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