Monday, December 15, 2014

Saint Nicholas by Joe Wheeler

Saint Nicholas has acquired many names over the centuries: Kris Kringle, Saint Nick, Santa Claus. When we hear the name Santa we think of the man in the red suit with a jolly laugh and a large white beard. We think of Coca-cola bottles and reindeer and presents. Santa is generally seen as a jolly old soul whose mythical presence brings joy to every child on December 25th. But when it comes to the man Saint Nicholas, I think it is safe to say Santa is his secularized form. He is a pop icon with no more authenticity than a clown. And while the idea of Santa is a very nice one, I think it is safe to say that I am not the only person who is sick of his polarization. Santa has become more of a marketing tool...a way to suck kids in and make them behave this one time of the year. He is a pagan giant who supports department stores and malls all over the country. While Santa is fun as a kid, I really yearned to learn more about the man Saint Nicholas as I got older. When I saw this book at a bargain book store, I knew I needed to buy it for my own cause. I wanted to know who the really Saint Nicholas was.
I'm not a huge history reader so please forgive me when I say I found this book to be incredibly boring at times. While I am a huge reader I prefer to learn about history on the TV with visuals. That being said, this was a good book. Ir is a generally short read and is very to the point of who Saint Nicholas was and how he slowly molded into what he is today. I was very surprised to learn that Nick did more than simple anonymous giving while he was alive but had some involvement in politics of the church and was even imprisoned for his beliefs.
The author made sure to not skip over any detail about Nick's life, large or small. The first fourth of the book talks about Nicholas while he was alive while the rest discusses his impact over the centuries. The book does a great job at capturing how culture forms and how everything is connected. He talked about miracles surrounding the Saint (none of which I have heard of) and artwork and went into great detail about Saint Nicholas's transition from Saint to Santa. The book definitely has commentary on culture without being social commentary. This includes why people pray or why saints are so important and what it all means in the grand scheme of things. I also loved that the author explained how Saint Nicholas Day and the birth of Christ merged into one.
Overall, I was very touched by this book. I think it is a great read for the holidays yet can also be enjoyed as a religious or historical text. I learned a lot. I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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