19 December 2013

Did You Know Santa is from Turkey?

This time of year, many of us think of Santa as busy elf in his workshop in the North Pole.  He may live at the North Pole now, but his true birthplace was Gemiler island on the western coast of Turkey.  Visitors to the modern-day coastal town of Demre, can go inside the cave church where the original St. Nicolas, the Bishop of Myra, lived and preached. 

Santa's Birthplace, Gemiler Island, Turkey
The following excerpt is from a very interesting book explaining the science and history behind many of the Christmas traditions we practice today.  Roger Highfield’s, “The Physics of Christmas” can be downloaded from iBooks (https://itun.es/us/V5qtv.l)

Happy Holidays
from your Outdoor Recreation Team!

“There is now evidence to suggest that Santa’s abode lies not on the polar ice cap, but among Mediterranean olive groves on Gemiler, a tiny island off Turkey. It is there, historians believe, that St. Nicholas, a direct ancestor of Santa Claus, may have died.

Church of St. Nicolas, Demre, Turkey
Gemiler is well-known to tourists and has recently been the subject of a number of archaeological studies, most recently by the University of Osaka, and by a group of scholars including David Price-Williams, an archaeologist who lectures at London University. Though it is only half a mile long, it has at least five churches decorated with frescoes and mosaics and all the hallmarks of a major religious site — a holy city dedicated to St. Nicholas.

Medieval Venetian sailing instructions refer to Gemiler as the Island of San Nicolo. On a church door near the anchorage is a painting of “Osios Nikolaus” — St. Nicholas himself. The island also has a huge Byzantine ecclesiastical complex, with a magnificent 300-meter barrel-vaulted processional way. At other Byzantine sites processional roadways are often associated with monastic complexes dedicated to the veneration of major saints, but few ever reached the grandeur of the one at Gemiler.

Fresco of St. Nicolas
Legend suggests that St. Nicholas was born around A.D. 245 in the town of Patara, an important Byzantine port in Turkey, only a couple of hours’ sail from Gemiler. When Nicholas was a young man, his father died, leaving a great fortune. Nicholas began anonymously giving away the money to the needy, especially to children. Eventually he became Bishop of Myra (the modern-day coastal town of Demre), at the southernmost tip of the Bey Daglari Mountains. (The name “Myra” is derived from that of the resin myrrh.) There he supposedly performed several miracles, including saving sailors from drowning and resurrecting three boys who had been killed by an evil butcher. It is the best-known of his miracles, however, that helps to wrap St. Nicholas into the legend of Santa Claus.

This miracle concerned a noble and his three daughters, who had fallen on hard times. The daughters had little chance of marriage, as their father could not pay their dowries, so they faced a life of prostitution. One night St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls’ plight, threw a sack of gold through a window of the nobleman’s shabby castle. The sack contained enough gold to provide for one daughter’s marriage. The next night he tossed another sack of gold through the window for the second daughter. But on the third night the window was closed. Ever resourceful, St. Nicholas dropped the third sack of gold down the chimney. Townsfolk heard the story and began hanging stockings by the fireplace at night to collect any gold that might come their way, presumably — hence the tradition of the Christmas stocking and Santa’s affinity for fireplaces.”

St. Nicholas probably died sometime in the mid-fourth century. (One oft-quoted date is December 6,343.) The earliest Byzantine portraits show him with a long white beard, and when the reformed church spread throughout Europe, he became linked with Christmas because his feast day is 6 December. His fame was widespread by the sixth century — a possible explanation for the huge settlement on Gemiler.”

But just after 650, this place of veneration was disbanded. The Islamic governor of Syria launched a fleet to challenge Byzantine sea power in the Mediterranean. He quickly destroyed the settlements on Cyprus, followed by those on Rhodes and Cos. Gemiler was abandoned. The site lay forgotten and forlorn — the lost sacred city of St. Nicolas. Today St. Nicholas remains one of the most popular Christian saints and is known as the patron of children, sailors, teachers, students, and merchants.”

There are many and varied explanations of how St. Nicholas evolved into the character we know. All that can be said with certainty is that Santa’s roots lie in folk customs and beliefs from a sackful of sources. These include the British Father Christmas, the French Père Noël, the Dutch Sinterklaas, the Danish Jules-Missen, and even the Romanian Mos Craicun.”

Excerpt From: Roger Highfield. “The Physics of Christmas.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-physics-of-christmas/id357371503?mt=11


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