CLAUS - THE CHISWICK CONNECTION
people in Chiswick will know that Chiswick
Parish Church on Church Street in Old Chiswick
is dedicated to St Nicholas and many people
realise that St Nicholas is often regarded
as being the original Santa Claus or Father
Christmas. So we know that Chiswick is in some
way connected to Santa Claus but we don't quite
know how. Here's the answer !
upon a time, about three hundred years after
the birth of Jesus Christ, a boy called Nicholas
was born in Patara in Lycia, which was in a
part of the Roman Empire known as Asia Minor.
Lycia is nowadays in south-western Turkey so
if he were born today, Nicholas would have
been a Turk!
travelled as a young man to Palestine and Egypt
and was ordained as a Christian priest. He
was elected as Bishop of Myra in Lycia and,
like so many then and since, he was imprisoned
for his faith during Emperor Diocletian's persecution
of the Christians. Nicholas was released from
prison under the rule of Emperor Constantine,
the first Christian Roman Emperor, and attended
the first great council of the Christian Church
in Nicea in Asia Minor in 325 AD.
KIND AND GENEROUS MAN
was a very kind and generous man and his reputation
inspired stories of miracles he performed for
children, sailors, prisoners, the poor and
the unhappy. He was said to have provided marriage
dowries of bags of gold for three poor girls
who otherwise would have been forced into lives
of slavery or worse; the three dowries are
the origin of the pawnbrokers' symbol of three
gold balls. He is also said to have restored
to life three children who had been chopped
up by a butcher and put in a tub of brine.
saved sailors in peril on the sea and he saved
three innocent men who had been condemned to
death by the Governor of Myra who had been
bribed to condemn them. Nicholas spoke powerfully
to the Governor and persuaded him to confess
the wrong he had done and beg for forgiveness.
VERY FAMOUS SAINT
his death Nicholas was recognised as a Saint
by the Christian Church and devotion to St
Nicholas of Myra spread to all parts of the
Christian world. He became the patron saint
of Greece and Russia, of the cities of Moscow
and Fribourg and more importantly, of children,
sailors, unmarried girls, merchants and pawnbrokers.
churches, including Chiswick Parish Church,
down by the river in Church Street in Old Chiswick
by Chiswick Mall, were dedicated to him and
his miracles and deeds became the subjects
for artists and liturgical plays.
1087 AD Italian sailors took St Nicholas' body
from Myra to save it from the advancing Muslims
and brought it to Bari in southern Italy where
his remains were placed in a superb church
built by the Normans. The Basilica of San Nicola
in Bari became one of the great centres of
pilgrimage in medieval Europe and is still
in use today over 900 years later.
Europe in the Middle Ages, churches elected
a Boy Bishop on the Feast of St Nicholas on
6th December to reign until the Feast of the
Holy Innocents on 28th December. Children were
given presents in commemoration of St Nicholas'
generosity to children and this tradition remains
strong in many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
countries. However, elsewhere this ancient
tradition has been eclipsed by the newer traditions
of Santa Claus and Father Christmas.
NICHOLAS' CHURCH CHISWICK
Nicholas Parish Church, Chiswick is appropriately
dedicated to St Nicholas because of its location
beside the Thames and St Nicholas' association
with sailors. Chiswick Parish Church has for
many years commemorated St Nicholas on the
Sunday closest to 6th December when a member
of the congregation dressed as St Nicholas
proceeds down the Church after Mass and gives
gifts to the children.
keeping with the times, in previous years,
lifelong Devonshire Road resident, George Jales,
portraying St Nicholas and dressed in bishop's
robes, distributed bags containing gold chocolate
coloured euros to the children. The chocolate
euros were received eagerly and devoured rapidly
before they melted down in value below parity
with the dollar.
NICHOLAS' DAY CELEBRATIONS IN CHISWICK
is a special Mass at 8 pm in Chiswick Parish
Church every year on 6th December to celebrate
St Nicholas on St Nicholas' Day.
the Council Chamber of Chiswick Town Hall there
is a civic armorial shield incorporating a
picture of St Nicholas; this shows that he
was obviously regarded as the patron saint
of Chiswick when the Council Chamber was built
over a hundred years ago. How times have changed
inclusion of St Nicholas on the civic shield
commemorates the fact that until the nineteenth
century local government in Chiswick was administered
by Chiswick Parish Church.. Chiswick Town Hall
in Heathfield Terrace was originally built
in 1874 as the Vestry Hall of Chiswick Parish
Church at the cost of £5,400. Following the
establishment of Chiswick Urban District Council
in 1894, the Vestry Hall was taken over by
Chiswick Urban Council and it was enlarged
and reopened as Chiswick Town Hall in 1901.
SO, WHAT HAS ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH SANTA
interest in St Nicholas greatly declined in
most Reformed and Protestant Christian countries
after the Reformation in the sixteenth century,
his legends survived in Holland where he was
known as Sinterklaas, a Dutch name for St Nicholas.
Sinterklaas was portrayed as a kindly old man
who punished naughty children and who rewarded
good children with presents. Dutch emigrants
took their tradition to North America where
the English-speaking majority translated Sinterklaas
into the Santa Claus known and loved by children
all over the world.
so the legend of St Nicholas has spread from
fourth century Turkey through Europe and across
the Atlantic where the great American melting-pot
culture has incorporated Nordic and other pagan
traditions, transformed it into Santa Claus
and spread it around the world. The great powers
of the modern world - commerce, television,
film, radio and publishing - have created the
modern legend of Santa Claus but Christianity
gave us St Nicholas, a man for all seasons
but particularly for the seasons of Advent
Christmas, two thousand years after the birth
of Jesus Christ, we should remember the story
of St Nicholas. Most of all, we should remember
the story of Jesus Christ upon whom we, like
St Nicholas and Christians of old, should truly
centre our Christmas and New Year festivities.