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Nicholas Of Turkey
There is an old saying that sometimes fact is more strange than fiction. The factual origin of the fictional "Santa Claus" is perhaps a prime example.
Most people know that another name for Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas. "Santa" is the Latin-languages equivalent of "saint," while "Claus" is merely a clipped Dutch pronunciation of Nicholas (i.e. ni-claus).
Rome's Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas really existed. He was a Church of Rome bishop (and as such could have become Pope) from what is today Turkey. Nicholas attended the famous Council of Nicaea that had been called by the Emperor Constantine in 325 to address a number of doctrinal matters (notice that the council was called by the emperor, which is not surprising since the Church of Rome was an invention of the Roman empire; see also Emperors and Popes).
Nicholas was by most accounts a fanatic - at times a violent fanatic, as attested by Nicholas' physically attacking Arius (see the Fact Finder question below to understand who Arius was) at the Council of Nicaea. For that assault, Emperor Constantine had Nicholas thrown in jail and stripped of his office as bishop (notice again how the Roman emperors had full physical and doctrinal control over the Church of Rome).
The impossible fables of Saint Nicholas accelerated from that point. According to Roman Catholic legend, while in jail for that assault, "Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary" appeared to Nicholas and were instrumental in restoring Nicholas to his office of bishop, an obvious fraud for two reasons - first, Jesus Christ would not bless the antichrist Church of Rome, and second, Mary is dead, not in heaven, but asleep in her grave awaiting her resurrection (see What Happens When You Die?). Nevertheless, the fairy tale story well suited the beliefs of the Church of Rome, so it was accepted. Nicholas reportedly died about 350.
How did such a man become "Santa Claus"?
The European Church of Rome venerated Nicholas, along with their many other saints and "patron saints." European pioneers brought their worship of Saint Nicholas to North America. The Vikings built a church to him in Greenland. Christopher Columbus named a port in Haiti after Saint Nicholas in 1492. Spanish explorers named a settlement in Florida after Saint Nicholas (known today as Jacksonville). And on and on.
But how did Saint Nicholas, a hot-tempered Roman Catholic "saint," a man who, as a Church of Rome bishop, could have become the Pope, the very throne of the antichrist, become the "Santa Claus" of the Roman festival of Christmas? (see Saturnalia and The Iranian Mystery God)
While devotion to Nicholas was generally rejected on both sides of the Atlantic by Protestants after the Protestant Reformation, gradually Nicholas came to be adopted as a patron saint of secular entities. In 1804, the New York Historical Society proclaimed Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of their society and of New York City itself - keeping in mind that he wasn't yet re-invented as "Santa Claus." He was still regarded as an ancient Church of Rome bishop, but not for much longer.
In 1809, Washington Irving published Knickerbocker's History of New York that contained references to a more jolly "Santa Claus" interpretation of Saint Nicholas. In 1823, the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas) was published, setting off the "jolly old elf" myth.
Fact Finder: Who was the man named Arius that "Santa Claus" attacked at the Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea? How and where are Arius and the Arian Kingdoms found in Bible History and Prophecy?