What Did He Look Like?
Well... He didn't look like this:
Rather, he would have dressed like any other ecclesiastic of the fourth century, because that's what he really was -- the bishop (actually the archbishop) of Myra, in present-day Turkey. At that time it was a Greek province of the Roman Empire*, though its customs and traditions would have leaned to eastern. So, His Excellency would likely have worn a semblance of robes as were common in an eastern border country under Roman rule.
Which, actually, didn't look like this, either:
You see, when officiating, the garb of a bishop wouldn't have included a bishop's miter, as it's commonly believed that miters didn't begin to be worn until after the tenth century. And, in fact, it's likely that his clerical vestments may not have differed at all from his street clothes, as this differentiation didn't start to occur until after the time of Constantine, well into the fourth century, and wasn't regularized throughout the Church until a couple centuries after the death of St. Nicholas.
Don't be mistaken, though, as iconography and symbolism are important ingredients of our Faith, it's logical and appropriate that St. Nicholas is almost always depicted wearing red -- as it's the traditional color of all bishops -- and that he's shown with the mitre and crozier of more modern times, as his office in the Church is a key part of his identity.
|The slap. You can mess with |
St. Nick, but don't mess with
the Holy Trinity!
Where Did He Live?
St. Nicholas was born in 270 A.D., the son of wealthy parents in the Greek city of Patara, which was at that time a province of the Roman Empire. This area is now the southern coast of Turkey. When he was a young man, St. Nicholas went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he stayed for a while, but upon returning, stopped in Myra (which is now the town of Demre), where he was elected Bishop. He traveled in his duties, but remained bishop of the see of Myra for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, regardless of all the wonder and drama and sanctity of his life, the real St. Nicholas has gotten somewhat lost in the confusion with Santa Claus in our western world. His feast day is on the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran calendars, but he's probably better known for one legendary act of mercy than for anything else in his long ,busy, very holy life. Just about anyone who has any idea of "St. Nick" can tell about the three daughters who lacked dowries to get married. The story goes that the Bishop, hearing of their need, snuck into the family's home by night and slipped the necessary funds into the girls' stockings that had been hanging to dry by the fireplace. This story is so ancient that the biographers of the saint believe that it has some foundation in fact. And it is from this work of mercy that our Christmas stocking tradition proceeds. Thus most American's single recollection of the life of our saint.
And in the Church
We remember St. Nicholas in the Mass:
Prayer of the Collect for December 6th
O God, who didst adorn by the workings of countless miracles the holy bishop Nicholas: grant, we beseech Thee, that by his merits and prayers we may be delivered from the flames of hell. Through our Lord.....
Ways To Celebrate the Feastday?
To dive into a plethora of customs and ideas for crafts and cooking to celebrate the day, you can go to The St. Nicholas Center, most especially for the true story of our saint; this site is an amazing resource -- the one from which I derived a lot of the facts you may have read here. And, by all means, if you have any inclination at all toward baking for St. Nicholas Day or any of the feasts of December, Catholic Cuisine is thee go-to website. For craft ideas, try Catholic Icing or run back over to the St. Nicholas Center for some ideas.
And for coloring pages (Gotta Have Coloring Pages!), there are several really good ones at the St. Nicholas Center, but the following icon is considered to actually most favor the real St. Nicholas:
Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!
St. Nicholas, Pray for us!
*Reworded to reflect the fact that one could not actually call St. Nicholas "Turkish" as I originally had done. Turkey didn't exist at that time. St. Nicholas would have more properly have been called "Greek." Thanks for the correction, Carol!
* * Yup, reposted from 2012!