Pardon the interruption while we jump into the story of Santa Claus, or more properly, Saint Nicholas.  The American tradition of a bearded man in a red suit distributing gifts is a custom borrowed from the Feast of Saint Nicholas, celebrated since medieval times in the low countries of Belgium and Holland.

In these countries, the tradition was to exchange gifts not on the 25th of December, but three weeks before hand.  Still in Advent, the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated on the anniversary of his natural death, traditionally dated to December 6, 352.

Nicholas was bishop of Myra.  That ancient city is now Demre, on the southern coast of Turkey, 275 miles south east of Ephesus.  Nicholas became an archibishop of Myra, and he was imprisoned  during the persecutions of Diocletian.  He was released after Constantine came to power.

Most of the traditions about his legendary generosity were…

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