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Have archaeologists found the grave of Santa Claus?

Feast of Saint Nicholas being celebrated in Firbourg, Switzerland on December 6, 2009 Credit: Chlempi/Wikipedia

Feast of Saint Nicholas being celebrated in Firbourg, Switzerland on December 6, 2009 Credit: Chlempi/Wikipedia

A recent statement by Turkish archaeologists may throw a damper on this year’s Christmas celebration. They are claiming to have found the last remains of Santa Claus.

While working on an old church in Demre located in Southern Turkey, an electronic survey revealed an opening in the ground beneath the church that probably holds the remains of Saint Nicholas. He is a fourth century bishop on which our modern Santa Claus is based.

An initial look beneath the church floor revealed an undamaged shrine.

Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Mrya. The name of the city was later changed to Demre. According to tradition, he would secretly give gifts to children often by putting money in their shoes.

Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured during the reign of Diocletian but lived long enough to see the Christian emperor Constantine come to power and was then released.

When Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD (December 19 on the Julian calendar) he was buried at his church. Demre even has a museum dedicated to this saint.

However, after a major renovation due to a fire, it appears the shrine was covered over. It will take a few weeks for archaeologists to make their way down to the shrine as they have to carefully remove the church’s ancient tiled floor one piece at a time.

Though a church in Italy claims to have the remains of Saint Nicholas, the undamaged shrine suggests this may not be the case.

After his death, Nicholas was sainted and honored by those in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions for his generosity to the poor and children.

Saint Nicholas Day or the Feast of St. Nicholas is still celebrated in many parts of the world on either December 6 or 19th for the Eastern Orthodox churches who follow the Julian calendar.

In the 18th century, the Dutch church began to celebrate his death, that was closely connected to what was then believed to be the birthday of Christ. In Dutch, his name was translated as “Sinterklaas”.

Many churches still hold a casual celebration of the day that usually includes a special mass, but for those churches that consider Saint Nicholas as their patron saint, it can involve a much more elaborate festival.

Churches in Poland and Germany often have boys dressing up as Bishops who go out on the street asking for alms that will then be distributed to the poor.

In the Ukraine, where it is celebrated on December 19, children expect to find a present under their pillow when they wake the next morning, provided they were good the previous year. If they were not, they will find a twig or piece of coal.

Meanwhile in Holland, children of those celebrating the festival provide hay and carrots for the horse that pulls Saint Nicholas’s carriage. They also put out their shoes the night before and hope to find goodies and even gifts in them at morning.

In France, some Catholic churches that consider Nicholas as their patron saint mark his death by having a donkey pulling a carriage with gifts and goodies for the children.

Similar churches in Germany and Austria celebrate the festival by having a Bishop wearing bright red vestments ride through the streets on a horse or donkey on his way to the cathedral.

According to The Telegraph, the modern day creation of Santa Claus took place in 1822, when an Episcopalian clergymen based in New York, Clement C. Moore, wrote a poem popularly known as the Night Before Christmas.

The poem that is actually entitled The Visit of St Nicholas was based on the Dutch celebration of the Feast of St Nicholas.


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