In the lobby of a residential building during the Christmas Season last year, I encountered the white-bearded sculpture pictured below, about half the height of an average son of Adam. This piece of art was standing guard by the lift (or rather, since this was in the US of A, the elevator) to go up into the building.

Late Autumn 2020

From what I recall, the only depictions that I've ever seen in real life (as opposed to in pictures or video) that come anything close to St. Nicholas of Myra have invariably been some form or another of the classic American Santa Claus, whether as a sculpture, or an inflatable decoration, or as a costumed actor: an elderly, portly man with a generous white beard swathed in red clothing trimmed with white fleece. (A short drive from the aforementioned building, the Christmas decoration that made the most dramatic impression on me for a couple of years previous to that was a huge inflatable biker-gang version of Santa Claus, astride his inflated motorcycle, complete with sunglasses on.)

Standing next to this elevator, therefore, was my first time seeing, in person, a Christmastime depiction of Santa seeming to prefer donning his more traditional O.G. apparel, which would render him rather more into his previous format as the ancient Bishop of Myra. I'd been hesitant about that interpretation, however, since I've never seen any Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas, kitted out in quite this fashion. I believe the feature that threw me off the most about his get-up is the crown of fruit.

Where I grew up, Santa Claus was an American phenomenon with whom I was familiar mostly from Hollywood productions, whereas I knew the character, rather, by the name of Father Christmas. He essentially bore the same features, although research during this Christmas Season took me through the fascinating origin story of Father Christmas as a completely distinct personage, originally from the British Isles (and apparently born out of the English Civil War, as well as social upheaval based on the Puritans seeking to root Roman Catholicism out of the UK). According to Wikipedia, "The popular American myth of Santa Claus arrived in England in the 1850s and Father Christmas started to take on Santa's attributes."

Within that research I've seen several designs, drawings and paintings of Father Christmas and I've also looked at a variety of icons, paintings and costumed portrayals of St Nicholas.


The elevator lobby decoration, to me, looks like some kind of Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic priest, because of the crozier (bishop's staff) that he wields, and which does resemble the one that St Nicholas sometimes carries.

Roman Joseph Studio St Nicholas
St Nicholas Statuette - Roman Joseph Studio

Both Santa Claus and the more original St. Nicholas tend to wear light-coloured clothing or the colour red, or a combination of the two (as in the immediately preceding image, for example). The tendency towards darker apparel, as on the lobby statuette (especially the articles of clothing under the mantle) appears to be an Eastern European phenomenon for St Nicholas. See the following examples:

St Nicholas Lipensky
Icon (1294) in the St Nicholas Church on Lipno Island in Russia

Jaroslav Čermák - Sv. Mikuláš
Sv. Mikuláš, by Czech painter Jaroslav Čermák (1800s)

Note, however, this c. 1525 painting by the German artist Christoph Bockstorfer.

The lobby statue's headgear leads me to the conclusion that he is likely meant as an amalgamation of Father Christmas and the more old-school St Nicholas, maybe with a touch of Santa mixed in as well. He seems to be wearing Santa's hood or floppy cap, surmounted with a garland of fruit based on the holly wreath worn by Father Christmas.

Stephen Winick Father Christmas
Stephen Winick wearing a design aimed at authenticity in line with the original English Father Christmas

Our lobby visitor's (perhaps priestly?) attire, and especially his crozier, make me think St Nicholas.

2020Lobby Side View

But that is a guess on my part and perhaps I am mistaken.

Does this art-piece correspond to a particular style of representing the 4th-century bishop, of which style I am perhaps unaware?

1 Answer 1


Is this statuette supposed to be St Nicholas of Myra, or Father Christmas, or somebody else?

The statues in image 1,2 and 7 are not that of St. Nicholas, but rather a modern interpretation of the secular notion of what Santa Claus is. They are not portraying the historical personage of St. Nicholas which you have posted in images 3,4, and 5.

Images 1,2,6 and 7 are example of the modern personification commonly known as Father Christmas and definitely not that of St. Nicholas. They also bare no clerical or liturgical clothing making them stand out as a bishop at all, apart from perhaps carrying a staff.

Saint Nicholas of Myra (traditionally 15 March 270 – 6 December 343), also known as Nicholas of Bari, was an early Christian bishop of Greek descent from the maritime city of Myra in Asia Minor (Greek: Μύρα; modern-day Demre, Turkey) during the time of the Roman Empire. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His reputation evolved among the pious, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus ("Saint Nick") through Sinterklaas.

Very little is known about the historical Saint Nicholas. The earliest accounts of his life were written centuries after his death and contain many legendary elaborations. He is said to have been born in the Greek seaport of Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor to wealthy Christian parents. In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them. Other early stories tell of him calming a storm at sea, saving three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution, and chopping down a tree possessed by a demon. In his youth, he is said to have made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine. Shortly after his return, he became Bishop of Myra. He was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian, but was released after the accession of Constantine. An early list makes him an attendee at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but he is never mentioned in any writings by people who were actually at the council. Late, unsubstantiated legends claim that he was temporarily defrocked and imprisoned during the council for slapping the heretic Arius. Another famous late legend tells how he resurrected three children, who had been murdered and pickled in brine by a butcher planning to sell them as pork during a famine.

Fewer than 200 years after Nicholas's death, the St. Nicholas Church was built in Myra under the orders of Theodosius II over the site of the church where he had served as bishop, and his remains were moved to a sarcophagus in that church. In 1087, while the Greek Christian inhabitants of the region were subjugated by the newly arrived Muslim Seljuk Turks, and soon after their church was declared to be in schism by the Catholic church, a group of merchants from the Italian city of Bari removed the major bones of Nicholas's skeleton from his sarcophagus in the church without authorization and brought them to their hometown, where they are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Nicola. The remaining bone fragments from the sarcophagus were later removed by Venetian sailors and taken to Venice during the First Crusade.

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Full-length icon of Saint Nicholas by Jaroslav Čermák, showing him with a halo, dressed in clerical garb, and holding a book of the scriptures in his left hand while making the hand gesture for the sign of the cross with his right.

Father Christmas is the traditional English name for the personification of Christmas. Although now known as a Christmas gift-bringer, and typically considered to be synonymous with Santa Claus, he was originally part of a much older and unrelated English folkloric tradition. The recognisably modern figure of the English Father Christmas developed in the late Victorian period, but Christmas had been personified for centuries before then.

English personifications of Christmas were first recorded in the 15th century, with Father Christmas himself first appearing in the mid 17th century in the aftermath of the English Civil War. The Puritan-controlled English government had legislated to abolish Christmas, considering it papist, and had outlawed its traditional customs. Royalist political pamphleteers, linking the old traditions with their cause, adopted Old Father Christmas as the symbol of 'the good old days' of feasting and good cheer. Following the Restoration in 1660, Father Christmas's profile declined. His character was maintained during the late 18th and into the 19th century by the Christmas folk plays later known as mummers plays.

Until Victorian times, Father Christmas was concerned with adult feasting and merry-making. He had no particular connection with children, nor with the giving of presents, nocturnal visits, stockings, chimneys or reindeer. But as later Victorian Christmases developed into child-centric family festivals, Father Christmas became a bringer of gifts.

The popular American myth of Santa Claus arrived in England in the 1850s and Father Christmas started to take on Santa's attributes. By the 1880s the new customs had become established, with the nocturnal visitor sometimes being known as Santa Claus and sometimes as Father Christmas. He was often illustrated wearing a long red hooded gown trimmed with white fur.

Any residual distinctions between Father Christmas and Santa Claus largely faded away in the early years of the 20th century, and modern dictionaries consider the terms Father Christmas and Santa Claus to be synonymous.

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1848 depiction of Father Christmas crowned with a holly wreath, holding a staff and a wassail bowl and carrying the Yule log.

Just an historical note to add here. Bishops prior to the seventh century did not wear mitres. So, images of St. Nicholas wearing a mitre are in err in this domain. Artist license portrays Early Holy Bishops as wearing mitres.

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The evolution of the mitre, from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).

It is also doubtful if the historical St. Nicholas bore a crosier. When did a crosier appeared as a bishop’s insignia is unknown, but many speculate that it may have been in the fifth century. Thus once again a artist license is at work in many images of St. Nicholas.

The crosier is an ecclesiastical ornament which is conferred on bishops at their consecration and on mitred abbots at their investiture, and which is used by these prelates in performing certain solemn functions. It is sometimes stated that archbishops do not use the crosier. This is not so, the truth being that in addition to the pastoral staff they have also the right to have the archiepiscopal cross borne before them within the territory of their jurisdiction. According to present-day usage the Roman pontiff does not use the crosier. That this practice is now a departure from primitive discipline is now thoroughly established, for in the early representations of the popes found on tablets, coins, and other monuments, the crosier is to be seen (Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, II, 500). But in the eleventh century this must have disappeared, since Innocent III (d. 1216) intimates that it no longer prevailed (Epistola ad Patr. Const.). As a reason why the pope does not use crosier symbolists allege the giving by St. Peter of his staff to one of his disciples in order to raise a dead companion to life. The pastoral staff will here be treated under: (1) the symbolism of the crosier; (2) its origin and antiquity; (3) early forms and subsequent artistic development.


The origin of the pastoral staff is at times associated with the shepherd's crook. Whether the usage was borrowed from this source is doubtful. Some writers trace an affinity with the lituus, or rod used by the Roman augurs in their divinations, while others again trace in the crosier an adaptation of the ordinary walking-sticks which were used for support on journeys and in churches before the introduction of seats (Catalani, Pont. Rom., Proleg., xx). At all events, it came at a very early date to be one of the principal insignia of the episcopal office. Just how soon is not easily determined, since in the early passages of the Fathers in which the word occurs it cannot be ascertained whether it is to be taken literally or metaphorically (see 1 Corinthians 4:21) or whether it designates an ecclesiastical ornament at all. In liturgical usage it probably goes back to the fifth century (Kirchenlex., s.v. Hirtenstab). Mention of it is made in a letter of Pope Celestine I (d. 432) to the Bishops of Vienne and Narbonne. Staffs have indeed been found in the catacombs that date from the fourth century but their ceremonial character has not been established. The first unequivocal reference to the crosier as a liturgical instrument occurs in the twenty-seventh canon of the Council of Toledo (633). At present it is employed by bishops whenever they perform solemn pontifical functions, by right in their own dioceses and by privilege outside, and by inferior prelates whenever they are privileged to exercise pontifical functions. - Crosier (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

Many modern artistic works show Bishops in purple clerical vestments, but the actual colour for bishops and archbishops was in fact green. Purple became the colour used for bishops in the 16th century and is still in use today.

How artists have changed our imaginations!

Just a fun note follows here.

In memory of the green once worn by bishops!

Fiddleheads or fiddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable.

Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond (circinate vernation). As fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground.2

Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity, are a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are high in iron and fiber.3 Certain varieties of fiddleheads have been shown to be carcinogenic (see bracken toxicity).

The fiddlehead resembles the curled ornamentation (called a scroll) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a fiddle. It is also called a crozier, after the curved staff used by bishops, which has its origins in the shepherd's crook.

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Fiddlehead ferns

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