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The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas

The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas

5.0 2
by Marianna Mayer
For most of us, young and old, Santa Claus is a jolly old man, looking exactly as he is described in the classic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." In fact, few people realize that there was a real Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra and lived during the fourth century. In this beautifully illustrated and richly designed book, Marianna Mayer creates an inviting


For most of us, young and old, Santa Claus is a jolly old man, looking exactly as he is described in the classic poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." In fact, few people realize that there was a real Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra and lived during the fourth century. In this beautifully illustrated and richly designed book, Marianna Mayer creates an inviting portrait of the man who became legendary for his generosity and miraculous acts of kindness. Using a similar elegant format as in her critically acclaimed title The Twelve Apostles, Mayer pairs each story of a famous miracle with exquisite reproductions of medieval and Renaissance paintings.

But when did St. Nicholas become known as Santa Claus? Mayer's knowledgeable introduction and concluding note, as well as the familiar poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," all help to shed light on this amazing transformation. Her beautiful book captures the spirit of Christmas and will fascinate readers of all ages.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this worthy companion to her other works about religious figures, Mayer (Young Jesus of Nazareth) uses several brief stories to introduce the fourth-century orphan boy turned miracle-working bishop who inspired the modern holiday image of Santa Claus/Father Christmas. Masterpieces from European museums and churches illustrate scenes from the saint's life; laid out on pages framed and accented with gold paint, they create a setting far more elegant and reverent than the nostalgic cover art would suggest. Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" opens the volume on a festive and familiar note. All ages. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
While Mayer opens her nonfictional treatment of Saint Nicholas with the poem attributed to Clement Moore and some old Christmas card art, this book is then entirely illustrated with reproduced art from old Italian masters, such as Fra Angelico, Hermen Rode, Lorenzo Lotto, and Tintoretto. Mayer retells the miracles attributed to the saint and the legends that surrounded him in one seamless story so that readers consider the holy man instead of the "jolly old elf" of the poem. Plenty of gold and lush color used in the 1200s to 1400s from which most of the art comes, compel the reader's attention. While some of the artwork is murky it may be a result of the age of the frescos, not the quality of the photographs. James Giblin's The Truth about Santa Claus also covers some of the same material, although not as beautifully illustrated, and cuts a wider swath through customs before and after Saint Nicholas's legend took hold. However, this book deserves a place in the Christmas collection because it so winsomely brings to light the life and legends of young bishop who lived in the fourth century in Turkey and has been so lovingly depicted in Medievel art. 2001, Phyllis Fogelman/Penguin Putnam, $16.99. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: Susan Hepler
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up-This handsome biography of Saint Nicholas is going to be more useful for saint assignments than as a Christmas book as many parents and their children will be most unhappy to be told right up front that "those longed-for gifts found under the Christmas tree are not after all left by him." Mayer starts with Clement Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and then leaves the Christmas holiday to provide a brief biography of the saint who died in A.D. 343. The prose is readable and direct. While some might question the author's matter-of-fact portrayal of miracles, children using this book for a report probably won't have a problem with it. Utilizing reproductions (a few of which are quite blurry) of religious art, dominated by stiff and formal works by artists from the Middle Ages, this offering probably holds more appeal for adults than it does for children. A list of illustrations cites page numbers, but, unfortunately, the text is unpaged.-A. C. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The life of the real St. Nicholas, patron saint of brides, young boys, and seafarers, is laid out in episodic text and artwork. While St. Nicholas's generosity led people to celebrate his feast day long before Dr. Clement Moore penned his famous poem, he is largely unknown to most people today. His beneficence began when he heard of a father who could no longer support his three unwed daughters. By throwing bags of money through an open window on three successive nights, he provided the sisters with the dowry they needed to wed, and saved them from being sold into slavery. On almost every page, the reader learns of miraculous occurrences associated with St. Nicholas-from discovering the murderer of three young boys and bringing them back to life, to a time he fed the people during a famine in an event very like the Bible story of the loaves and fishes. Although the text shows several "Santas," the main focus is on the life of the saint, not on the transition in popularity from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus. The luminous illustrations are reproductions of paintings done in the 13th through 16th centuries. The vibrant pictures glow with an illuminated manuscript-type quality rarely seen in books meant for children. Unfortunately, they are not captioned, but rather listed in the back and indexed by page number-a difficult system when the pages of the book are themselves not numbered. Nonetheless, Mayer's (The Twelve Apostles, not reviewed, etc.) work is a wonderful tribute to the saint whose generosity is celebrated every year. (Nonfiction. 7-12)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Phyllis Fogelman Bks.
Product dimensions:
8.88(w) x 11.50(h) x 0.42(d)
NC1110L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Opening with the traditional version of the beloved poem 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' renowned children's book author Marianna Mayer seques into the life of St. Nicholas, the saint whose legendary generosity was the genesis for Santa Claus. St. Nicholas, who lived during the fourth century in the area that is now known as Turkey, was the child of practicing Christians who died when Nicholas was but a boy. Fortunately, they were people of wealth so the child was left with a handsome inheritance which it is said he used to help others. According to stories that have grown up around the saint when he was still a boy he overheard villagers in the marketplace discussing a family that was destitute, so impoverished that three daughters were to be sold into slavery. That night young Nicholas stealthily approached the family's home and threw a bag of gold in through an open window. So astounded was the man to find this amazing gift that he sat by the window each night hoping to see his benefactor. When he did catch Nicholas leaving another bag of gold the man wanted to know how he could repay him. The boy only asked that the man never tell who had helped him. Later, as an adult, Nicholas was elected Bishop of Myra and continued his selfless generosity which won him legions of followers. Illustrating her story with reproductions of paintings by some of the world's greatest artists, including Tintoretto and Fra Angelico, Ms. Mayer has created a keepsake Christmas book that families will enjoy season after season.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. Buy this for your children if you want to read a story that gets to what Christmas is really about.