by: Juelie McLean

Santa has not always appeared the way we think of him today. The first well-known gift-giver was a true person--St. Nicholas. He lived in Myra (today we know it as Turkey) in about 300A.D. Born an only child of a wealthy family, he was orphaned at an early age when both parents died of the plague. He grew up in a monastery and at the age of 17 became one of the youngest priests ever. Many stories are told of his generosity as he gave his wealth away in the form of gifts to those in need, especially children. Legends tell of him either dropping bags of gold down chimneys or throwing the bags through the windows where they landed in the stockings hung from the fireplace to dry. Some years later Nicholas became a bishop--hence the bishop's hat or miter, long flowing gown, white beard and red cape. After his death he was elevated to sainthood. Eventually the Catholic Church started celebrating Christmas and St. Nicholas was incorporated into the season.

When the Reformation took place, the new Protestants no longer desired St. Nicholas as their gift-giver as he was too closely tied to the Catholic Church. Therefore, each country or region developed their own gift-giver. In France he was known as Pere Noel. In England he was Father Christmas (always depicted with sprigs of holly, ivy or mistletoe). Germany knew him as Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man). When the communists took over in Russia and outlawed Christianity, the Russians began to call him Grandfather Frost, who wore blue instead of the traditional red. To the Dutch, he was Sinterklaas (which eventually was mispronounced in America and became Santa Claus). These Santas were arrayed in every color of the rainbow--sometimes even in black. But they all had long white beards and carried gifts for the children.

The Santa we know today had his beginnings in 1823 with Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in which he described St. Nicholas as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf". Forty years later, Thomas Nast, political cartoonist, created a different illustration each year of Santa for the cover of Harper's Weekly. His Santa was a plump, jolly old fellow with a white beard and smoking a long stemmed pipe. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to do an illustration showing Santa with the Union troops. Many historians say this was one of the most demoralizing moments for the Confederate army....seeing Santa side with the North.

In the South, by 1863, the Union had blockaded their ports and very little was able to get through. Southern families explained to their children that even "Santa" could not get through the blockade.

Finally, from 1931 to 1964, Haddon Sundblom created a new Santa each Christmas for Coca-Cola advertisements that appeared world-wide on the back covers of Post and National Geographic magazines. This is the Santa we know and love today with a red suit trimmed with white fur, leather boots and belt, long white beard and a pack of toys slung onto his back.



Saint Nicholas traveled, but not to the North Pole. In his youth, he journeyed to Palestine (Israel) and Egypt, prerequisite stops in those days for future saints. But his legend begins in Myra (also known as Kale or Demre) east of Patara. A boat ride in Saint Nick’s time, today Myra is a three hour bus journey over Turkish mountains from Patara. (Bus fare 50,000 lira -- last bus back at 20:30.) On the shorter bus routes, like on the Santa Claus trail, you usually travel on a "dolumus"-- a minibus. "Dolumus" means "packed" and often, especially in the morning and evening when locals are traveling to and from work, dolumus is a well-choosen adjective. You may have the pleasure of experiencing the locals with all five senses.

Home base: Kas

The inviting, but somewhat touristy city of Kas lies about an hour east of Myra, and makes a good base camp as lodgings are sparse in Myra. An attractive fishing port, Kas is chock full of inexpensive but comfortable lodging. Recep Bilgin Caddesi (a street) is full of nice pensions. Prices around US $14. Some lodging advice, which is valid throughout Turkey and, in fact, any Muslem country: do not stay in a pension next or close to a mosque unless you like to rise early to loudspeakered Muslem prayers. (And listen to them all day, if you're in your room.)

Kas is also a good place to buy a Turkish carpet, if you so desire. We recommend Magic Orient, where we bought ours. Located on the waterfront, Magic Carpet has a reputation for honesty, amazing for a Turkish carpet seller. Visa/Mastercard accepted. (Carpet tip 1. If your itinerary takes you into Central Turkey, carpets are much less expensive there. 2. Buy your carpet at the end of your Walkabout -- they're heavy.)

Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish) lies a short distance to sea and makes an interesting day trip. Despite the fact it is far from Greece and just off the Turkish coast, the island is officially part of Greece. Not surprisingly, Turkey disputes ownership. Kastellorizo is where that wonderful Italian film Mediterraneo was filmed.

Santa's life

Saint Nicholas lived his adult life in Myra, becoming the bishop of the city. More than just the patron saint of children and travelers, he is also the protector of prisoners. (Thus if you are a teenager arrested while visiting Turkey, you'd better pray to St. Nick.) The origin of Saint Nicholas’s involvement with children and gift-giving is believed to have arisen from a legend in which a shopkeeper was too poor to supply his daughters with dowries. When Saint Nicholas heard of their plight, he threw three bags of coins into the shopkeeper’s yard, saving the daughters from prostitution.

The Church of Saint Nicholas is in Myra, built after his death. Noel Baba’s remains were placed in a rock sarcophagus. The church is a quick walk from the bus station. The way is marked (look for "Aya Nicola" signs) but if you get lost just say "Noel Baba" to any local and they’ll point the way. The entry fee is 50,000 Turkish Lira. Outside the church, set in a quiet, plant encased garden, is a modern statue of Saint Nicholas, complete with beard, bag of toys, and children. It’s the Turkish Santa Claus, however, thin and dressed in a robe. Myra contains other impressive ruins, a mile north of Saint Nicholas’s church. Lycian tombs are carved, stories high, from the hillside above a Roman amphitheater. They are an impressive sight and should not be missed. An easy walk, unless the temperature approaches the surface of Venus, which it sometimes does on the Turkish Coast. Taxis are about $2 from the church.

The beard, the sack of toys, and the children are there, but the real Santa wore a robe.

The modern day statue is in the garden of The Church of Saint Nicholas in Myra, Turkey. The church is the real thing, from the 5th century. Original wall paintings of St. Nicholas and other saints adorn the rock walls, and St. Nicholas's sarcophagus lies inside the church. His bones do not, however, stolen by Italian merchants in the 11th century. Some bones are currently preserved in the Antalya museum.


Demre (Myra), Turkey

Demre (Myra) is the town where Santa Claus first brought joy.

Actually, it was St Nicholas who lived and worked here, and who was later transmuted into the jolly Christmas elf. An 11th-century church in Demre once held his earthly remains, but most of them were later stolen by holy-relic thieves.

Nicholas was born in nearby Patara, became a priest, rose to the rank of bishop, and did much of his good work here in the Roman town then called Myra, a name derived from myrrh.

Legend has it that he'd drop small bags of gold coins down the chimneys of houses with poor girls who were old enough to marry, but had no dowry. Sanctified for his good works, he became the patron saint of virgins, sailors, children, pawnbrokers and Holy Russia.

Today the Church of St Nicholas is Demre's most visited site, but there are other things to see in this small coastal Mediterranean< town. About 2 km (1.2 miles) inland are the ruins of Roman Myra, with a well-preserved theater and impressive rock-hewn tombs.

Demre (also sometimes called Kale) is a small town, and though it has a few small, serviceable hotels and restaurants, you may choose to see its sights on your way through to Kas or Olimpos.

Çayagzi, 5 km (3 miles) west of Demre, was called Andriake in Roman times, and has more ruins, a decent beach, and several small restaurants.


Patara, Mediterranean Turkey

Patara is known as the birthplace of Santa Claus, and also because of its l-o-n-g and uncrowded sand beach.

Santa Claus? Am I kidding? Not at all! Santa Claus, otherwise known as St. Nicholas, was born in Patara in the 3rd century, and moved to Demre (Myra) where he became a bishop and did his many good works.

Patara village, 3.5 km (2.2 miles) south of the coastal highway, is well-suited to low-budget travelers with numerous little pensions and simple hotels charging about US$25 or less for double rooms.

Patara beach is 20 km (12 miles) long, 50 meters/yards wide, and never crowded, because the small village inland from the beach has only a few hundred tourist beds. The ruins of ancient Patara are just inland from the beach, and no big hotels can be built in an archeological zone, so the beach should be protected from heavy development.

If the beach has one drawback, it's that there are few trees and thus little shade, so be prepared for a day of sun.

The Patara ruins are interesting: a sand-swept theater, a triple-arched triumphal gate, a necropolis (cemetery) with Lycian tombs, a ruined basilica and a public bath, among others.

Car, or bus and taxi, are the ways to get to Patara. Any bus will drop you on the Fethiye-Kas highway at Ovaköy, whence it's a 3.5-km (2-mile) taxi ride (or hitch) to the village that's officially named Gelemis (GEHL-eh-meesh), but which everyone calls Patara.

The ruins of ancient Patara are a further 1.5 km (1 mile) south of the village, and the beach yet another kilometer (6/10 mile) through the ruins.


Saint Nicholas

This was an ancient Lycian city built on the banks of the river Myra, 2 kilometres from Kale. In the harbour of Myra, Paul starts the second leg of his voyage to Rome, where he was to stand judgement. The prisoners were transferred to a cargo vessel carrying grain to the Capital and set out on their hazardous trip. Here one can see what remains of the church originally built in the fourth century as the resting place of Saint Nicholas and later enlarged to today’s dimensions.

Saint "Santa Claus" Nicholas

Birth: 280 Death: 342
Saint, believed to be the original Santa Claus. His bones are not in this sarcophagus, as they were stolen by merchants in the 11th century. Some of his bones are preserved in the Antalya museum.

Church of Saint Nicholas
Myra, Turkey
Plot: Inside the church

Turkey - Land of St. Nicholas
by Bill Egan, Staff Writer & Christmas Historian

To most Americans, St. Nicholas is just another name for Santa Claus -- plump and rosy-cheeked. To most of Europe and Asia, he is a thin figure dressed in bishop's robes.

St. Nicholas was born in Patara around A.D. 280 in Asia Minor and became bishop of Myra, now Demre, in Turkey. (Myra is a three hour bus ride across the mountains from Patara.)

The only definite historical evidence of his life is in the records of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which was responsible for creating the Nicene Creed, a famous statement of doctrine. He was definitely in attendance, although it's not known what role he may have played in the meetings and deliberations.

Nicholas probably suffered in the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian, which lasted until about 311, at which time he would have been around 31-years-old. The new emperor, Constantine, tolerated and then encouraged and finally established Christianity as the state religion. Nicholas died about 343.

It was not long after his death that the legends began and his popularity began to spread.

Saint Nicholas lived his adult life in Myra on Turkey's southwest coast. There he served the people as bishop of the city.

Today visitors to Myra can see the partially restored Church of Saint Nicholas which was built after his death. The remains of "Noel Baba" were placed in a rock sarcophagus within the church. In a nearby park, tourists will find a modern statue of Saint Nicholas complete with beard, bag of toys, and children gathered around him. Unlike the American Santa Claus, St. Nicholas is depicted as a tall thin man, dressed in a hooded robe.

An annual St. Nicholas Festival is held in Myra, for three days around the saint's official Feast Day, Dec. 6. The celebration attracts many tourists who spend their Christmas holidays on the sunny coast of ancient Lycia.

Myra contains many other impressive ruins. A mile north of Saint Nicholas’s church, Lycian tombs are carved, stories high, into a hillside above a Roman amphitheater. They are an impressive sight and should not be missed.

Antalya, the main town of Turkey's Mediterranean coast, is a scenic four to five hour bus ride from Myra. Now a world-wide mecca for golfers, Antalya is a vibrant metropolis. This is not only a result of the tourist trade but because it is a major Turkish port. The town's Archaeological Museum contains several bone fragments of the former Bishop of Myra, in a red-lined case. Only these few fragments have been preserved in Turkey, while the rest were removed to Italy.

Other than the St. Nicholas recognition in Myra, Christmas is not a major holiday in Turkey.

"As you know, Christmas is a Christian tradition," says Fusun S. Nebil, an internet company executive in Istanbul. "Although there are a lot of Jewish or Christian people who live in Turkey, the main religion is Islam so we don't have the Christmas celebration tradition."

According to Mrs. Nebil, the main celebration in late December is the end of the year and the welcome to the new year.

"As the world is going toward globalization, many things are becoming shared," she says and cites the Christmas tree as an example. "For the last ten or twenty years in Turkey, people began to use pine trees as a decoration for the New Year celebration. This is getting some criticism from religious people though."

Champagne Corks and Fireworks

For the past decade people have gathered in city circles to greet the new year with champagne and fireworks.

"Many companies build giant screens at the circles so people can watch what is happening at the other cities of the world," says Mrs. Nebil. "This past year was especially important with the beginning of the millenium. The large televisions showed the celebrations from all over the world during the day."

HOSCAKALIN! -- Be happy always! .table-float { float: right; margin-left: 5;}


The history of Santa Claus


Just like the season of Christmas, the history of origins of Santa Claus is influenced by the customs and cultures of many countries, beginning in Asia Minor sometime around the 4th century AD. It was here that Bishop Nicholas became renowned for his exceptional generosity, especially to the very young. Many years later he became known as Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

As time went on, adults began to dress in the manner of Saint Nicholas, dressed in Bishops vestments and carrying a staff., to re-enact the kindness of the saint. They went from house to house, asking if the children who lived there had been well behaved. In response to these visits, the children left their shoes outside the doors of their houses so that next morning they might find them filled with sweets and trinkets.

An Anglo-Saxon version eventually evolved and was known as Father Christmas. His character was a mixture of the Saint Nicholas and earthly perceptions of the gods Thor and Saturn. He wore robes decorated with ivy and holly and carried a switch to threaten unruly children, as well as a bag of toys to reward the well behaved.

In North America the British, German and Dutch settlers introduced their own derivations of Father Christmas and of these the Dutch figure of ‘Sinterklaas’ became the common favourite. Eventually this name was anglicised to become Santa Claus, the mythical figure of Christmas who placed toys, sweets and trinkets into stockings hung by the fireplace.

The modern perception of the character of Father Christmas was greatly influenced by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist with Harpers Weekly, who published a drawing of Santa Claus in 1860. This was a portly figure with white hair and a long beard, dressed in a red robe and wearing a crown of holly, holding a long clay pipe similar to that of Sinterklaas.

Perhaps the final stage in the evolution of the modern Santa Claus was brought about by publicity from the Coca Cola Company. They launched an advertising campaign in the 1930s with Santa Claus as the central figure and subsequently used the motif for the next forty years or so. This conception of Santa Claus was produced for them by Haddon Sundblom, who built on the character and costume created by Thomas Nast to produce a cheery, chubby fellow that is still a familiar perception of the mythical Christmas character to millions of people throughout the Western world.


The history of Christmas


Many aspects of contemporary Christmas have their roots in pre-Christian celebrations from a number of countries and cultures.

From the Romans came Saturnalia to honour the early god Saturn. From the 17th to the 24th of December public gathering places were decorated with flowers, gifts and candles were purchased and exchanged, and the population - slaves and masters alike - celebrated with feasts and merriment.

As Roman culture spread through Europe, other festivals occuring at this time of year became associated with Christmas. In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule contributed another impetus to celebration as opposed to spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the need to utilize summer's bounty encouraged serious feasting.

The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly evergreens, mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating their homes and altars.

New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th century had become associated with the religious observance of the birth of Christ.

In Italy, a tradition developed for re-enacting the birth of Christ and the construction of scenes of the nativity. This is said to have been introduced by Saint Francis as part of his efforts to bring spiritual knowledge to the laity.

Saints Days have also contributed to our Christmas celebrations. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honoured on December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus.

Another popular ritual was the burning of the Yule Log which is strongly embedded in the pagan worship of vegetation and fire, as well as being associated with magical and spiritual powers.

Celebrating Christmas has been controversial since its inception. Since numerous festivities found their roots in pagan practices, they were an easy target for Church conservatives. The feasting, gift-giving and frequent excess presented a drastic contrast with the simplicity of the Nativity, and many people throughout the centuries and into the present, condemn such practices as being contrary to the true spirit of Christmas.

Old Christmas Day


Until the time of Julius Caesar the Roman year was organised round the phases of the moon. For many reasons this was hopelessly inaccurate so, on the advice of his astronomers, Julius instituted a calendar centred round the sun. It was decreed that one year was to consist of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, divided into twelve months; the month of Quintilius was renamed 'July' to commemorate the Julian reform. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of leap years, the Julian calendar overestimated the length of the year by eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which comes to one day every on hundred and twenty-eight years. By the sixteenth century the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by Pope Gregory XIII lopped the eleven minutes fifteen seconds off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days. This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic Europe.

Protestant Europe was not going to be told by the Pope what day it was, so it kept to the old Julian calendar. This meant that London was a full ten days ahead of Paris. The English also kept the 25th of March as New Year's Day rather than the 1st of January. By the time England came round to adopting the Gregorian calendar, in the middle of the eighteenth century, England was eleven days ahead of the Continent.

A Calendar Act was passed in 1751 which stated that in order to bring England into line, the day following the 2nd of September 1752 was not to be called the 3rd of September, but the 14th of September. Unfortunately, many people were not able to understand this simple manoeuvre and thought that the government had stolen eleven days of their lives. In some parts there were riots and shouts of 'give us back our eleven days!'

Before the calendar was reformed, England celebrated Christmas on the equivalent of the 6th of January by our modern, Gregorian reckoning. That is why in some parts of Great Britain people still call the 6th of January, Old Christmas Day.