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'Tis the season of Christmas and Santa Claus, it seems, is everywhere. Children anxiously await his gift-bearing arrival, but some Christians are worried that most of those children — and their parents — don't know who "jolly old Saint Nicholas" really was.

"St. Nicholas was a real person. Not a fairy, not someone who's flying through the sky with reindeer, but an actual person who lived and worked and died and had a full life," said Canon Jim Rosenthal. "He had a Christian life because he was actually a bishop, a pastor."

Rosenthal, director of communications for the worldwide Anglican Communion office, is founder of the St. Nicholas Society UK/USA, an international movement urging churches to reclaim St. Nicholas.

Every year, Rosenthal dresses up like St. Nicholas, complete with a bishop's staff, called a crozier, and hat, called a miter. He visits churches to help spread the St. Nicholas message.

"If we don't recover this tradition, I believe that we are going to eventually lose Christmas, any semblance of a religious Christmas," he said.

Nicholas was born in Asia Minor when the new Christian faith was beginning to spread across the Roman Empire.

"He came from a very wealthy family," Rosenthal said. "His parents died at an early age. His uncle was a priest, and he became a priest like his uncle."

Nicholas rose to leadership in the early church and was named Bishop of Myra, a city on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. During a period of persecution, he was imprisoned. He was eventually released and continued his ministry until his death on December 6 in 343.

"He was known for his generosity and his goodwill because he was very rich," Rosenthal said. "He literally, by the end of his life, gave away all of his ...

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December 2008

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