The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas

St. Nicholas is real; originally a Christian Bishop known for his generosity, he is the patron saint of children and his spirit serves as their protector. Sailors have also adopted him as their patron as well.13th Century icon from St. Caherine's Monestary.

St. Nicholas is real; originally a Christian Bishop known for his generosity, he is the patron saint of children and his spirit serves as their protector. Sailors have also adopted him as their patron as well.            13th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Today a bit about the Christmas Spirits–I mean the REAL spirits; ghosts associated with the Yuletide season. Let us begin. First on the list?  Why Santa Claus! He goes by many names: our Santa Claus, but also Father Christmas, Papai Noel, Sinter Klaas, Babbo Natale, Pere Noel and a whole slew more.

First and foremost of the ghosts of Christmas is St. Nicholas himself.  I know: you don’t think of Jolly Old Saint Nick as a ghost. .  While you may not think of him as a ghost per se, the truth is he is a spirit, and at one time was a living, breathing person.  So, to paraphrase the famous essay in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  That, after centuries he is overlain with rich myth and legend and his duties have grown exponentially, is understandable; but he is very real.

The first thing should understand about Santa–the real Santa–is that he is a Christian saint.  St. Nicholas was born in the Middle East about 350 miles northwest of Bethlehem in Patara, sometime around 270.  He was at one time bishop of Myra, a town in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and he is first and foremost the patron saint of children.  Bear in mind, Christian saints are generally referred to in the present tense; although their physical form is gone, their spirit lingers; they are known to appear to folks at various times and perform miracles.  Another thing about saintly apparitions: they can appear at two places at the same time.  So visiting every home where children reside if you have no physical form is not so difficult a trick as you may imagine.

Even in ancient times he was known for his generosity; one story told of him was that, on hearing that three maidens were too poor to afford a dowry and therefore couldn’t get married, he anonymously threw a bags of gold through the window into their home.  After first two girls were married their father became curious as to whom he mysterious benefactor was and tried to watch out for him; so when the third was due to wed, to prevent his identity being discovered, St. Nicholas threw the bag of gold down the chimney.  So, girls, if you’re very, very good, perhaps jolly old Saint Nick will throw a bag of gold down your chimney–wouldn’t that be better than a Barbie?

Of course, like the Blessed Mother, Saint Nicholas adapts his clothing and customs to the particular country he’s in; our vision of him borrows a lot from Germanic notions of Christmas, and some of his iconic imagery has more to do with Norse Mythology than Christianity.  Nevertheless, Santa is as real as any other saint.  So all those cynics out there who scoff at ghosts and such things; well, you may yet get a lump of coal for Christmas.  Ho, ho ho!

Saint Nicolas as imagined by Thomas Nast, whose iconic portrayal of Santa has become our dominant vision of this Christmas spirit.

Saint Nicolas as imagined by Thomas Nast, whose iconic portrayal of Santa has become our dominant vision of this Christmas spirit.

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