Dr. Adam English, a scholar who specializes in the early Christian church, devoted several years of research to assembling and sorting through all the latest research into the life of the man who would transform into our modern Santa Claus. For those serious readers wanting to dig much deeper into the history of St. Nicholas of Myra, English provides his own roadmap for further reading in more than 30 pages of notes at the end of this book. But most of us simply will enjoy his own delightfully written 200-page overview of this saint who literally moved the whole world to greater compassion toward the poor.
If you already have history-of-Christmas books on your shelf, you will be pleased to know that this is not another tour of Santa Claus in popular culture. This time, the real St. Nicholas isn't relegated to a single chapter in a book that is more interested in Clement Moore's poem and Coca-Cola icons of the jolly old elf. No, English focuses entirely on bringing us the dramatic story of the humble bishop from Turkey who became so beloved that relics of his saintly body wound up traveling around the world. His first sacred shrine was in Turkey, but eventually the bulk of his skeleton made its way to Italy, a finger bone traveled to France and some assorted teeth made it all the way to Spain.
If that sounds a bit too much like an episode of TV's CSI or Bones for you, rest assured that this all is placed in the context of a fascinating story about a man who, English documents, became a worldwide inspiration. As remarkable as this may seem to modern Christians, Nicholas took the world by storm largely because his heart was focused on helping the most needy and vulnerable in his day. Back in that era, civic and religious leaders did not assume that was their role in the world. Poor people had to survive or perish on their own, or so the conventional thinking ran until Nicholas began his public campaign to change hearts and minds. If you care about Christmas traditions, and especially if you care about the Christian roots of compassion, I highly recommend this book. It's great for individual reading and perfect for small-group discussion.