Today’s plump, red-suited Santa Claus is a familiar figure throughout much of the world. For many centuries, Santa Claus or the Good Saint Nick, the patron saint of young people, has been associated with Christmas and gifts. His name, Sanctus Nicolaus, originally from Latin, had various forms, including Germany’s Sankt Nikolaus and the Dutch’s Sinter.
Although it is customary to regard him as a myth, my beloved late aunt, the wife of a Coptic Orthodox Priest, told me that there was a real St. Nicholas who lived in St. Kitts during the eighteenth century.
Nicholas’ mother, an African slave who worked on a plantation on the island, was impregnated by her master, a wealthy English colonist; the plantation owner. The young Nicholas was loved by his father and was privileged to be taught to read and write. He studied Science, Arithmetic and Religion.
His devout mother gave him a bible which she had gotten from the Moravian missionaries who were on the island evangelizing and also teaching the slaves to read and write. Nicholas taught himself the scriptures and dedicated his life to God’s service.
At times he could have been seen in his favorite red coat, given to him by his mother, praying for and with the slaves on the plantation.
Nicholas was very popular on the island and several stories of his ability to perform miracles have come down to us. One day, while out at sea fishing with three of his father’s European plantation overseers, it is said that a mighty storm arose and the boat was almost wrecked. Nicholas prayed to God and the overseers were astonished when the wind suddenly abated, and their lives and the boat were saved.
Another miracle attributed to him occurred when two children, a boy and a girl, of a rich plantation owner on the island were robbed and killed by a European plantation overseer who wanted to take over the plantation because the children’s rich father was sick and dying. The man hid the dismembered bodies in the midst of a sugarcane field. On the night of the incident, the crime was revealed to Nicholas in a dream and he told it to his father.
Upon learning of the crime, Nicholas’s father told the authorities of his son’s dream and they confronted the wicked man who confessed to the crime. Young Nicholas then made a sign of the cross over the dismembered bodies of the children, prayed earnestly to God and immediately the boy and girl were restored to life. Thus, it was no surprise that Nicholas became the patron of children.
One day, young Nicholas went to his father and told him that he would like to join the clergy. So, his father sent him off to England where he became a Priest. Every December, on the sixth day, which is his birthday, St. Nicholas would pack and ship food and gifts in drums and barrels for the slaves, especially the children on his father’s plantation.
It is said that is why persons from St. Kitts who live in the Diaspora will traditionally pack barrels and send them home for family, friends and loved ones in December for Christmas.
So, no matter what the good old Saint is called, Father Christmas, Rasta Claus, Kriss Kringle, Santa Klaas or Sint Nicolaas, there was a Kittitian Santa Claus whose name is a synonym for unselfish givings.