By Christina Hermoso
Roman Catholics from different parts of the world will commemorate on Thursday the feast of one of the key figures of Christmas –Saint Nicholas – more popularly known across nations as Santa Claus.
Also known as Father Christmas, the fat, jolly, bearded old man in a red suit, St. Nicholas remains venerated to this day in many parts of the world as the patron protector of children, sailors, bakers, pawnbrokers, and voyagers.
Born during the Third Century (March 15, 270) in Patara, Lycia (Turkey), St. Nicholas served as bishop of Myra, now Demre, on the coast of modern day Turkey, where he was loved and admired for his extraordinary piety, zeal, generosity, and genuine concern for the poor.
He dedicated his life serving God and doing charity work. He was also known as a wonder worker because of the many miracles that he performed in his lifetime and even after his death in the year 343.
Honored for many ages, St. Nicholas is one of only few Catholic saints who became a prominent part of Christmas. As the generous gift-giver, children eagerly await his arrival at midnight on Christmas Eve every year.
The Catholic Church also considers him as an Advent saint since his feast day falls during the Advent Season. “As a faithful follower of Christ, St. Nicholas’ life clearly reflected the way each one of us is called to show God’s love for others, especially to those in need. St. Nicholas helps us remember that Christmas is a feast of love, hope, sharing, kindness, and generosity,” Church officials said.
Every year, on his feast day, pilgrims, devotees, and tourists traditionally gather at his major shrine, at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy where his sacred relics are kept, as well as in numerous churches dedicated in his memory in many parts of the world. The number of altars and churches are testimonials to his popularity and holiness.
In many European nations, as well as in Canada and the United States, gift-giving traditionally starts today, inspired by the generous and thoughtful nature of Santa Claus. In the country, gift-giving before Christmas Day has, especially at this time when traffic is at its heaviest, also become a common practice as well.