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The first guy who wore red and white | Kitsap Week
By Ron Corcoran
Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series by local writer Ron Corcoran.
For no reason or explanation ever found in Turkish archives, December was the generous man’s month of annual gifting. Some believe that Dec. 5 was his birthday.
In any event, the tradition of annual gift-giving was born.
Very little information has been discovered about Myra’s gifting-man except historians have postulated that, as a young student, he must have paid close attention to his school teachers, he must have performed all his assigned homework, and he must have achieved good grades. How else, the historians ask, could he have achieved the financial success that enabled him to be an annual gift-giver in his city?
There are those who believe that this generous man, content with performing his good deeds, happily passed away in 346 AD. Others believe that the man, or at least his spirit, is somehow still alive and well and living in northern Spain.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes it is hard to know just what (or who) to believe?
Therefore, as a public service to those who read this story, the author initiated his own search to find accurate and complete information regarding the folklore and traditions of annual gifting (and re-gifting) that would become such a significant part of our holiday traditions.
The best information source found was in the country of the Netherlands, where catacombs, archives, and knowledge repositories were accessed for as much Christmas gifting history as could be discovered.
Historically, the Dutch are a very generous people. Who else do you know who would stick their finger into a hole in a leaking dike to prevent a major flood?
The Dutch truly loved the story of the gifting man from Myra, Turkey. So much so they adopted the man’s life story and incorporated his generous traditions into their own annual Winter Festival celebrations.
The Dutch believe — and justifiably so — the gifting man from Myra was named Nicholas and that he continued his annual generosity to the needy citizens of his city for many years. They also believe Nicholas was eventually sainted for his generosity and largesse. Accordingly, in the lexicon of mid-11th century Dutch language, the sainted man from Myra named Nicholas became known in the Netherlands as “Sinterklaas.”
Does the name Sinterklaas sound somewhat familiar?
Once the man had become duly sainted, Dutch legend describes how Sinterklaas really began to “get into character.” The saint reportedly adorned himself in a baggy white tunic under a large red cape and a tall red mitre (i.e. the ceremonial headgear of cardinals, bishops, and other clergy). He also complemented this unique attire by wearing highly-polished leather riding boots.
(Author’s note: Today, if Sinterklaas was in the checkout line of a local grocery store, he would draw nods, winks and admiring glances. Just like the ladies from the Red Hat Society do.)
Sinterklaas eventually began using a walking stick that was a tall, gold-plated crosier with a fancy curled top, much like that of a shepherd’s staff used to get the attention of wayward sheep.
(Author’s note: In later years, a crosier with a hook on top became useful for yanking off of a stage poorly-performing contestants during talent contests, vaudeville shows, or community theater.)
— Next week: The chimney sweeps.
Last week: The gift of giving