A few days ago the D-Man got “that” look on his face, and I knew he was mulling something over in his head. I asked my 10 year old “Is something on your mind”, and he replied “Do you think Santa Claus has Celiac Disease?” I thought this was a very thought provoking question (and something that I too have wondered). I suggested he use the internet to do some research, and then write up his findings. I explained that while his research might not be conclusive, it might provide some clues that would help us answer his question. This is what he wrote:
Who was Santa Clause?
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a Bishop of Myra named Saint Nicholas. Historians believe that Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra which is now modern-day Turkey. He was born to an educated and wealthy family, but his parents died from a Plague when he was young. He was a very religious man known for his kindness and he would travel the countryside helping the poor and sick, giving gifts to those in need with the money he had inherited.
Saint Nicholas became known as the protector of children and sailors, and there are many stories of his generosity. The Saint is said to have died on December 6, 342 A.D., and many in Europe continue to celebrate this as his feast day. The legend of Saint Nicholas continued to spread and he became the most popular Saint in Europe, especially with the Dutch who called him Sinter Klass. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” This is the poem that is responsible for how we view Santa Claus in America.
Did Santa Claus have Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivities?
Looking at pictures of Santa Claus (especially the American pictures of Santa) made me wonder if he had Celiac Disease or was at the very least gluten sensitive. I used the internet to research and found that Saint Nicholas was buried in a crypt in the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari, Italy. In 2005 a report documenting the measurements of his remains was sent to a forensic laboratory in England. The information was analyzed by experts and the data revealed that Saint Nicholas was barely five feet tall (pretty short for a man even in those days) and he had a broken nose. I could not find any information about this team testing his DNA which could have answered the question conclusively. The photo below is a forensic reconstruction of Saint Nicholas’s face produced by the lab in England based on his skull x-rays and measurements.
Could gluten have stunted his growth? Could the facial inflammation and Rosacea have been caused by gluten? Could Ataxia be the reason he broke his nose? I was not able to find the answers to these questions, but I learned enough to develop my own conclusion. We know that Saint Nicholas was born in an area known as the Fertile Crescent. We also know that the Greek Doctor Aretaeus of Cappadocia who was from the same region wrote about a disease that he saw in many people who lived in the area during the 1st Century A.D. Aretaeus wrote about a “disease of the abdomen”; described the symptoms, and referred to this disease as “Koiliakos”. Today we call that disease of the abdomen Celiac or Coeliac Disease. I still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus and I also believe from what I have read and the photos and paintings I have seen that Saint Nicholas definitely had a problem with gluten.