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The Tradition of St. Nicholas and Anatolia

The Christmas Holiday Season is a time for family and friends to gather and share gifts and good tidings, and St. Nicholas is the iconic personality of this colorful and jubilant celebration.

St. Nicholas lived in 300AD in what is now the village of Demre in the Antalya province of Turkey. Far from the North Pole, Demre is on the forested southwestern shores of the golden coast of the Turkish Mediterranean. The humble Church of St. Nicholas of Myra is located in Demre.
Christ is said to have been born in the spring. But, in the three hundred years following the execution of Jesus Christ, the Roman Empire transformed its December 22 Winter Solstice Festival to the celebration of the birth of Christ. The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, was a time to rejoice that the cold and barren earth would start to warm and become alive with the return of spring. The ancient Greeks and Romans decorated barren trees with colorful ribbons to symbolize flowers and birds. This pagan tradition was shared by cultures across the region.
It wasn’t until 1836, that Christmas on December 25 became a holiday in America, at least in Alabama. Since colonial times, America’s Puritan roots had rejected Christmas as pagan practice. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant designated December 25 and Christmas a federal holiday, downplaying its pagan roots. Grant’s objectives were practical, as he sought the declaration of the Christmas Holiday on December 25 as an effort to heal the deep scars between North and South following the Civil War. 

Modern culture transformed the name and personality of St. Nicholas to St. Nick, and eventually to Santa Claus, and moved his home from Turkey to the North Pole. The transformation also defined giving in the modern age in a consumer economy.

The Turkish people call St. Nicholas, "Father Noel" or "Noel Baba”, and remember that Nicholas was an Anatolian mystic and philanthropist who was the only son of a wealthy family. Nicholas later became the Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was one of the earliest figures of the humanitarian school of thought that flourished in Anatolia and manifested in both Eastern Orthodox and Islamic mysticism.

St. Nicholas encouraged anonymous giving as an ethical form of giving. He preached that the generosity of those who gave anonymously would be felt by all, and would inspire people to reflect upon their own generosity and selflessness. Those who gave would be satisfied not by the praise they received, but by the joy they selflessly brought to others.

As St. Nicholas' name was changed and his home relocated, so has been altered the focus of giving in contemporary society. But, still to this date, the spirit of giving continues in the heart of Anatolia and a trademark of Turkish hospitality.

Sources: http://mentalfloss.com/article/89733/when-americans-outlawed-christmas