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Acts of Kindness
December 3, 2010

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Who embodies the meaning of kindness more than Santa Claus?? The answer may be Saint Nicholas. I was interested in the stories of kindness by the real Saint Nicholas and the reason why he is our world-wide epitome of Christmas joy and good works.

Nicholas was the bishop of the Christian Church in the Asia Minor city of Myra (now Demre, Turkey) in the fourth century AD. He is beloved throughout the world for his kindness. Nicholas was a person who created numerous miracles and accomplished many good deeds. As a teenager, Nicholas inherited a vast fortune, but he had no idea what to do with it. Wanting to help those less fortunate than him, Nicholas set out to make the wishes of others come true. While Nicholas knew the townspeople needed his help, he was also aware that they were very proud people, so Nicholas decided to help his friends secretly.

Each night, Nicholas would disguise himself and deliver such items as food, clothing and money to the people of his village. His most famous story of kindness has to do with Christmas stockings which are considered one of the most common of Christmas traditions. The tradition of Christmas stockings is actually closely related to the origin of Santa Claus, and can be traced to fourth century Italy.

The story goes that a poor Italian father was going to be forced to sell one of his three daughters into slavery in order to pay the dowry for his other two daughters' marriages. St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop known for his charitable nature, heard of the father's predicament. One night, St. Nicholas passed the poor father's house and saw that the daughters had washed their stockings and hung them over the fireplace to dry. He took three bags of gold coins and tossed them down the chimney, and they fell into the daughters' stockings. Because of St. Nicholas' kindness, the poor father was able to pay the dowry for all three of his daughters' marriages.

From this story, it became an Italian tradition to hang Christmas stockings by the fireplace to be filled by St. Nicholas - later Santa Claus. The stories of St. Nicholas and the Christmas stockings spread throughout northern Europe, where the tradition became adopted by more and more cultures. As northern Europeans traveled the world, they brought their tradition of Christmas stockings with them, and that is why today stocking stuffers are an integral part of many people's Christmas celebrations.

Every December, Nicholas took it upon himself to reward all of the boys and girls who had been good throughout the year by secretly delivering presents to them. Fast forward to today and Santa Claus bringing gifts for all the good boys and girls.

Interestingly, In January 1863 the magazine Harper's Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas/St Nick by Thomas Nast. In this he was wearing a 'Stars and Stripes' outfit! Over the next 20 years Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa every Christmas and his works were very popular. This is when Santa really started to develop his big tummy and the style of red and white outfit he wears today. Nast designed Santa's look on some historical information about Santa and the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas'.

Nicholas is remembered for his kindness, generosity, and undying love for children. In honor of Nicholas, many countries throughout the world provide children with gift bags on December 6, Saint Nicholas' Day.

May your Christmas season be filled with kindness and joy!

St. Nicholas in Harper's Weekly:

January 1881

On January 1st 1881, Harper's Weekly published Nast's most famous image of Santa, complete with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe!

This image of Santa became very popular with more artists drawing Santa in his red and white costume from 1900 to 1930.By 1931, when Coke first used Santa in their advertising, his image was well established. The first 'Coke Santa' was drawn by artist Haddon Sundblom. He took the idea of Nast's Santa but made him even more larger than life and jolly, replaced the pipe with a bottle of Coke and created the famous Coke holding Santa! Coca-Cola also agree that the red suit was made popular by Thomas Nast not them!

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