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On December 6, Catholics around the world celebrate Saint Nick’s Day. Children leave their shoes and stockings out overnight in hopes that they will find a sweet treat or small gift inside the next morning (unless they misbehaved, in which case they might receive a stick or piece of coal!)
This tradition honors Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who is famous for his generosity and his habit of secret gift-giving. It is this saint who is widely regarded as the inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus.
For genealogists, this begs the question: If Saint Nicholas was a real person, did he have any children? We’ll need to go back to the early Catholic church for the answers, and to find out if it is really possible to be a descendant of the original Santa Claus!
The Real Santa Claus: Nicholas of Myra
Saint Nicholas was a born around 270 AD in Patara, a port city on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. Nicholas’ parents raised him as a devout Christian, and he ascended to the role of Bishop of Myra. Though it is uncertain when exactly Saint Nicholas became a bishop, we do know that he attended the Council of Nicea as a bishop in 325 AD.
Did Saint Nicholas Have Any Children?
In the modern Roman Catholic Church, members of the clergy (bishops, priests, etc.) are celibate, meaning they are prohibited from marrying or having children. However, this was not always the case. In the very early years of Christianity, many leaders were married men, including the apostle Peter. Examples of both celibate and married bishops can be found into the second and third centuries.
So how can we tell if Saint Nicholas was a married bishop? In 306 AD, the Council of Elvira was held, which is historically regarded as the first time a written decree was brought forth that required clergymen to remain celibate.
If Saint Nick was born around 270 AD and the council occurred in 306 AD, there is a tempting window between the estimated date of the Saint Nicholas’ birth and the Council of Elvira where there is a possibility that Saint Nick could have had children. However, there is evidence to support that clerical celibacy was a common practice well before the Council of Elvira.
Given Saint Nicholas’ reputation as a lifelong religious, and the lack of any historical evidence of a family, we can assume that the original Santa Claus did not bring forth any descendants.
Despite not having any children of his own, Saint Nicholas secured a reputation for himself as a father-figure to all children, whether they call him Santa, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas or just plain Old Saint Nick!