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St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus

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Myra’s prestige was greatly enhanced by the reputation of one of its citizens, namely St Nicholas, born in Patara in 270 AD and later appointed local bishop. The Orthodox patron saint of sailors, merchants, students, prisoners, virgins and children, his Western identity as a genial old present-giver is perhaps more familiar, based on the story of the three daughters of a poor man who were left without dowries. Nicholas is credited with throwing three purses of gold coins into the house by night, enabling them to find husbands instead of prostituting themselves. Many posthumous miracles were attributed to the saint, but little is actually known about the man. However, after his death he was probably buried in the church in Demre that’s now dedicated to him, and it is also widely believed that in 1087 his bones were carried off to Italy by a group of devout raiders from Bari.

Demre still banks heavily on its connection with St Nicholas (Noel Baba or “Father Christmas” in Turkish); a special Mass is held here on his main feast day, December 6, attracting Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims, while others take place on random Sundays throughout the year.

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