Written by Kristina Estle, President of the History Detectives of Belmont County
Based on the play The Legend of Santa Claus
As my 8-year-old, Tara, and I walked into the Ohio University Eastern Campus’ Shannon Hall Theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew my daughter would love The Legend of Santa, but I was curious to see if the show could grasp the attention of the parents, grandparents, and other adults that filled the theatre. The answer is an outstanding YES! Ohio University Eastern, Belmont County Tourism Council, and the Saint Clairsville Chamber of Commerce sponsored this show. The instant that Santa began his tale, I was hooked.
He began by calling names of children off of his Naughty and Nice list. The Legend of Santa Claus was not your typical Christmas show, but Santa Stories, from Saint Nicholas to Present Day. He begins by telling the story of the Elves. Santa claims that the Creator wanted entertainment, so on top of creating humans, he made Sprites and Dwarfs, gnomes and giants, dinosaurs and dragons, and of course, angels and fairies. As humans multiplied, disputes and arguments arose. Because of those, the mystical creatures decided to create their own world without humans and relocated to colder climates such as the Netherlands and Finland. Though, they missed the humans. The Dokeafore, also known as the Dark Elves, had a mission, and their main goal was to disrupt the celebration of Christmas. They did not want the children to receive gifts. Santa claims that if children misbehave or act up, they could have been influenced by the Dark Elves. Ultimately, the humans disrupted the Elves' villages in Finland, and they decided to relocate to Greenland. But, again, humans became masters of the sea and found their way to Greenland, disrupting the elves' villages. The elves made one final attempt at relocating, and that was to the polar ice cap, The North Pole.
How did the elves and Santa get together? To answer that question, Santa took us back to 280 AD to Asia Minor, or what today is known as Turkey. There existed a middle-aged couple who sold olive oil and grain and owned a fleet of ships. Their names were Nona and Theathones. They belonged to a group of Christians, and this group would meet in each other's homes, where they would pray and sing hymns. They would dance and enjoy each other’s company. Nona and Theothanes wanted children, but they were middle-aged. They prayed to God, and Nona became pregnant, and she gave birth to a little boy, which they named Nikolas, meaning “servant to the people.”
When Nikolas was a teenager, a plague broke out in his village. This plague would have been similar to the Covid pandemic that we have experienced recently. The traveling sea merchants who went port to port could have spread this plague. Nona and Theathones died from this plague. Nikolas had an uncle who was a monk. Due to his parents' wealth, Nikolas received a good education. He moved in with his uncle. Nikolas decided he could best serve the people by becoming a priest. His parents had left him a large fortune. He decided he would help the people of his village, especially the children, which he was very fond of. He wanted to take care of them. He wore a robe with his hood up, shadowing his face, and at night time, he would travel the streets, and if a family were in need, he would leave some grain, loaves of bread, or even a few coins. He was a generous soul, and the people loved him.
A merchant of the village had lost everything he had. He also had three daughters, who were reaching of age in which they could marry. During those times, in order to marry off their daughters, the parents had to put forth a dowry. A dowry was something of value, which could have been land, coins, horses, etc. The oldest daughter knew that her father did not have the money for the dowry, so she became an indentured servant to make money to save up for a dowry to give her father for her younger sisters to marry. Nikolas heard of this story, and one night he threw a bag of coins into the merchant's house. The sisters found it the following day and were overjoyed. They now had enough money to put together a dowry, and the daughters could marry. Ironically, the youngest daughter had hung her stockings by the fire in the chimney to dry them, and when Nikolas had tossed the coins into the chimney, they landed in her stocking. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas would soon be there.” It is believed that this story enticed people, to this day, to hang stockings on their chimneys. The father of these three young women was determined to find out who was providing for his family. So one night, he waited and waited, and when Nikolas threw the bag of coins into the chimney, the merchant ran after him; when he finally caught up to him, he threw back his hood and exclaimed, “Father Nikolas!? I should have known it was you!” Nikolas begged the merchant to keep his secret. Ultimately, he could no longer keep the secret, and rumors quickly spread.
As a priest, Nikolas took annual voyages to the Holy Land. He would be there for weeks where he prayed. As he was returning while crossing the Mediterranean, a massive storm developed. The wind howled, and the waves were ferocious. Everyone aboard feared for their lives. The crewmen approached Nikolas and asked him to pray to God for their safety, which he did. They made it safely to the port of Paterra, their home port. They were so grateful they made it home safely that the crewmen praised Nikolas and told the wild tale to all who would listen. Because of this story, Nikolas became the Patron of Sailors. Even the Vikings believed in and prayed to Saint Nikolas and accepted him as their Patron. Nikolas’ fame spread. A group of elves’ in Finland heard of Saint Nikolas and his good deeds. They had been looking for a special person to help with a special project.
An opening became available in Mira, and a group of priests decided that Nikolas would be a perfect candidate to become the Bishop of Mira. There he was anointed as the youngest Bishop in history. Nikolas continued with his good deeds. Emperor Diocletian struggled with ruling this region during this time, and he needed someone to blame. Therefore he blamed the Christian leaders. He jailed, persecuted, and tortured these leaders, many of which lost their lives. Nikolas was too famous for killing. Therefore, he was left in prison for many years. Eventually, Diocletian died, and Constantine came to power. Constantine released the Christian leaders. Nikolas was released. He was so grateful that he decided to help the generals of that territory with the people of that territory. Nikolas inspired equal justice for all. A battle transpired, and Constantine and his men were outnumbered. Before the war, Constantine looked into the sky and saw the Christian Cross in the sky, which inspired his men to fight with great ferocity. After winning the battle, Constantine began leaning toward Christianity and ultimately decided to convert the Roman Empire.
Nikolas continued helping others, and he became known worldwide. One of Nikolas’ many talents was craving. The first figure he ever carved was a wooden cat. That may have been the first toy. His reputation continued to spread as trade routes began to expand. The leader of the Elfon Council decided that Nikolas, indeed, was the person they were searching for. They needed someone to spread hope and joy and bring the elves and humans back together. They told Nikolas that they possessed special powers and admitted that he might not live forever, but they could ensure that his reputation would continue infinitely. On December 6th, 343 AD, Nikolas passed away. The elves lived up to their word, and the name of Santa Claus continues today. In 800 AD, the Catholic Church admitted Nikolas to sainthood, and he came to Saint Nikolas.