Santa Claus memories fill students’ seasonal stories

By Debbie Kosinski

Saint Nicholas—that jolly old soul with the big belly roll, nose red as a cherry, making kids’ Christmases merry. Do you remember making out your Christmas list, hanging your stocking, setting out cookies and milk or a carrot for Rudolph?

Why don’t you take time out from being stressed over finals to learn about this childhood wonder and reminisce on the carefree times of Christmases past with a few funny “Santa stories” from some NIU students’ memories.

So little was known about this man called Saint Nicholas that in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church questioned whether or not he had ever actually lived. Bibliographies written long after his death left a sketchy profile that only added to the legend.

According to these bibliographies, St. Nick was born in a village in Asia Minor called Patara about A.D. 280. His father and mother had been married for a long time, yet could not have a child. But the Lord blessed them with a child and the couple named him Nicholas which means “hero of the people” in Greek.

Although an only child, Nicholas’ parents did not spoil him, but taught him to be modest and think of others before himself.

When Nicholas was 12 or 13, a plague hit Patara that killed both of his parents, leaving him an orphan.

Giving most of his inheritance to charity, Nicholas devoted the majority of his time to religious study and at 19 he was ordained a priest in the Christian church.

After making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem, Nicholas was named Bishop of Myra, a city near Patara. Because of his age, people called him the “Boy Bishop”.

Nicholas faced despair again in his life, when in the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian started commanding all citizens of the Roman Empire, which included Asia Minor, to worship him as a god. Because Nicholas would never do so, Diocletian had him jailed. Although Nicholas suffered from cold, hunger and thirst he never wavered in his beliefs.

In 313 when Constantine came into power, Nicholas was released from prison and continued to live as Bishop of Myra.

Nicholas’ years of suffering built in him wisdom and a sense of compassion that so enraptured the people he touched, they started telling stories of the bishop.

By the time of his death on December 6, 343, the stories spread throughout Asia Minor even more, and soon people started to call him a saint.

He became the patron saint of sailors, marriageable maidens and children. The many legends that sprang up to explain why he had been chosen by these groups helped to convince more and more people that he could perform miracles.

St. Nicholas was not the first or only gift-bringer, however, only a few countries have their gift-bringer make his rounds on Christmas Eve. Sweden has Jultomten, an elf who wears a red cap and has a long white beard. The Jultomten rides in a sleigh pulled by the Julbock, or Christmas goat, to deliver his gifts. Sweden children, instead of setting out milk and cookies, would leave a plate of porridge for the Jultomten, as well as some hay and carrots for his goat.

As the popularity of St. Nicholas grew in nineteenth-century America, the idea of Santa Claus was adopted and made strong by the new poem Clement Clarke Moore wrote entitled, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” that begins with the famous line, “‘Twas the night before Chistmas”.

NIU sophomore nursing major, Laura Hawk, remembers Santa as a man who brought her to tears from both grief and joy one long ago Christmas.

“I was about 6 or 7 and my cousins and I were all sitting around Santa waiting for him to give us our presents from his big red velvet bag that seemed to explode with presents, just next to him,” she said. “Debbie got her gift first, then Andy, Jack, Karen, Mark … but there wasn’t one for me.”

Laura remembered she burst into tears thinking Santa forgot her this year, and when he took her onto his lap he asked her why she was crying. She told him and that was when he pointed to a far corner behind the festively decorated Christmas tree where a beautiful doll house had been placed.

“It was what I had been wishing for all year,” she said. “I remember being so happy—it’s my favorite memory of Christmas.”

NIU junior nursing major, Veronica Bizzieri, remembered a time when she and her cousins saw Rudolf’s bright red nose in the Christmas night sky above her aunt’s home.

“We had been singing carols and playing when I guess our parents wanted to have a little fun themselves,” she said. “All of a sudden, one of my uncles shouted that he saw Santa’s sleigh out the window and if we ran to the back door we may still be able to see it.”

Veronica said they all ran like crazy, tripping over each other. She remembers they were awe-stricken at what they saw.

“There we were, seeing with our own eyes a bright red light blinking high up in the sky,” she said. “We all went nuts screaming that we saw Rudolf’s nose.” In actuality, the blinking light was a caution light for planes that was on a high tower nearby.

“At the time I truly believed I was seeing proof of Santa,” she said. “When you get older, you don’t really believe in things so wholeheartedly … I could never describe the feeling I had when I saw that bright red light, except maybe to say that I experienced what Christmas truly is.”

“There we were, seeing with our own eyes a bright red light blinking high up in the sky. “We all went nuts screaming that we saw Rudolf’s nose. When you get older, you don’t really believe in things so wholeheartedly.”