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In 1897, Francis P. Church’s wrote a now-famous editorial in which he told little Virginia O’Hanlon that indeed there was a Santa Claus. "Yes, Virginia," he wrote in The Sun, "there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…No Santa Claus!" said Mr. Church, "Thank God! he lives and lives forever."


Nearly 1750 years ago, in the city of Patara on the coast of what is now Turkey, one Nicholas was born who became well known for his generosity and his love of children. He traveled to Palestine as a young man, and later became bishop of Myra, a town near his home of Patara. When Emperor Diocletian focused on persecuting Christians, Nicholas was tortured and imprisoned for his faith in Christ. According to tradition, Nicholas was released by Emperor Constantine and later attended the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.


Through the years, however, the real Nicholas got lost among legends and traditions. During the Middle Ages, Nicholas became patron saint of charitable fraternities and children, and legends sprouted about his feats of generosity and good will. After the Reformation, the legend of St. Nicholas died out everywhere except in Holland. When the Dutch Reformed Christians immigrated to the United States, they brought the traditions of "Sinterklaas" with them. St. Nicholas still rides into Dutch towns every November, dressed in his bishop's garb.


Later in Germany, St. Nick would traditionally arrive on his Feast Day, December 6th. A man dressed as St. Nick would go door to door loaded with a giant sack. To those children who had been good during the year, he gave presents. To those who had been bad, a lump of coal was their lot. "How did he do that?" the kids would wonder.


St. Nicholas's red outfit was derived from the red colors bishops wore. The modern version of St. Nick originated in a series of Thomas Nast engravings, which appeared in Harper's Weekly between 1863 and 1886.


This is a season during which we remember that God sent His Son to earth to be born as a little human baby. The Creator of the universe was made subject to all the troubles and difficulties of this life, and to ultimately die for our sins. It is his birth and life we celebrate at this time of year, as the greatest gift of all.


In a way, Mr. Church was correct in his letter to little Virginia. Not necessarily regarding the commercialized Santa Claus who allegedly lives at the North Pole. The original, however, the man who loved children and cared for the poor, that man was real. That Nicholas does live and live forever - for he was a follower of Jesus Christ.

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