Saint Nicholas: The Story of the Real Santa Claus
Mary Joslin & Helen Cann
Lion Children’s, 2003
I’ve been on the lookout for a good introduction to the historical figure of Saint Nicholas for a long time. I’ve certainly not hunted down every single book on the topic, but I’ve read probably half a dozen. Most of them have been well done and informative, actually, and I enjoy exploring a few every December. However, some of the legends about Nicholas contain fairly grizzly details so I often found myself doing a fair bit of editing on the fly when I read them aloud. Mary Joslin’s Saint Nicholas, though, is a great choice for my young children and is the book I’m reading to them this year to prepare for Nicholas’ feast day on December 6 (this Saturday!).
If you’re familiar with Nicholas’ life you know that he was a very generous man and also the bishop of Myra, a city in present day Turkey. There are a variety of tales told about him, but the only one in Joslin’s book is the one of his generosity to an impoverished family with three daughters who were unable to marry because they lacked a dowry. If you’re not familiar with it, this story involves Nicholas secretly tossing small pouches of coins into the family’s house (in most books they say he tossed it in the window, in Joslin’s case she says he threw them down the chimney). The family joyfully receives the gift and with it the hope of a better future for the three girls. Joslin’s retelling of this story is definitely a bit more rosy than others I’ve read, but in my case that’s exactly what I was looking for. She connects the dots between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus traditions more straightforwardly than some books do, so if you’re looking for more of a pure history this might not be the right option for you.
Unfortunately, this book is out of print and at this time of year prices for used Christmas books tend to spike. If you don’t want to pay a premium but have some patience, I’d suggest marking your calendar to remind you to purchase this lovely book… in July. In any case, join me this weekend in leaving chocolate coins in our children’s shoes and sharing a story about the legendary generosity of Saint Nicholas!