Q&A on the News

Q: What’s the background on Saint Nicholas? Did he originate in another country?

—Eddie Webster, Douglasville

A: The real Saint Nicholas was a bishop who was known for his generosity to the poor and being a staunch defender of Christianity in the fourth century.

He was Greek and was born in a town that is now in Turkey, according to various sources, and Saint Nicholas Day is still celebrated on Dec. 6.

Saint Nicholas remained popular as the “bringer of gifts,” as nationalgeographic.com wrote, until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, when saints began to be downplayed.

Baby Jesus took his place in some cultures as the primary gift giver, but he needed a helper, which sometimes was based on Saint Nicholas.

He was named “Sinterklaas” in the Netherlands, and the Dutch who left for colonial America brought the custom with them, according to many sources.

American author Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, included Saint Nicholas in his “A History of New York,” describing him “riding over the tops of trees” in a wagon in which “he brings his yearly presents to children.”

An 1821 poem titled “The Children’s Friend” mentions reindeer, flying over chimneys and children being naughty or nice.

Two years later, Clement Moore wrote “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” otherwise known as “The Night before Christmas,” which added more description.

Andy Johnston with Fast Copy News Service wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).