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Santa is REAL.

I’m not talking about the supernatural demigod who breaks the laws of physics bringing joy to all the children in the world.

I’m talking about St. Nicholas — the 4th century Greek Bishop. The guy Santa is based on was a real guy.

We know this because we have his bones.

At least we think so.

Over the years, Santa’s bones have been scattered across the world. But are they really the last remains of the guy we now call Santa?

Let’s go on a festive journey in search of Santa’s bones!

St. Nick’s pelvis, Morton Grove, IL.

Right now I might be an hour’s drive away from Santa’s bones.

In Morton Grove, IL just outside of Chicago, a church has a bone in its possession that supposedly once belonged to Santa himself. Well, St. Nicholas — the inspiration for Santa Claus.

It’s a pelvis bone — part of it anyway. For years, the church and its parishioners had to rely on faith alone that the bone actually came from St. Nick. But in 2017, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford used radiocarbon dating to prove that the bone actually came from the same time period as old St. Nick.

And it did.

So it’s possible this piece of bone could have come from the real life Santa Claus.

But how did a church in suburbs of Chicago come into possession of a bone from a 1600 year old greek bishop?

And why would they even want it?

Well, to understand that, you have to know St. Nicholas and why he was famous enough to have his bones stolen — multiple times.

Know Your Saint: St. Nicholas, 1700 year old Greek Bishop

Above all, Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity — especially to children. There are many legends of him helping those in need by providing them with gifts of food or money — usually secretly. Out of this, the idea of Santa Claus delivering presents grew.

But it was St. Nicholas’s status as patron saint of the sailor that eventually led to the global dissemination of his legend — as well as his bones.

In the 11th century, about 700 years after his death, the land where St. Nicholas was buried was invaded. In the centuries since his death, St. Nicholas’s tomb had become a popular pilgrimage destination — and a lucrative business endeavor for many in the Italian cities of Bari and Venice. Now that the region was in so much political turmoil, they worried that St. Nicholas’s tomb might be too difficult to reach to continue as a viable business venture.

So they decided to steal his bones.

St. Nick’s tomb, tourist attraction.

It wasn’t all about business and making money. There were definitely faithful Christians who were genuinely worried about the sanctity of St. Nicholas’s tomb. You have to understand his burial spot was sacred. And his earthly remains were considered holy relics, imbued with inexplicable powers.

Like the power to heal the sick and miraculously transubstantiate people’s faith into money.

Anyway, it was eventually an Italian merchant ship — whose crew sometimes behaved in a way that could make some people mistake them for pirates — who embarked on a mission to Turkey to steal St. Nicholas’s bones.

Afterall, he is the patron saint of sailors. And pirates are sailors too.

St. Nicholas saving some “sailors.”

They brought back most of his skeleton to Bari, Italy. That’s where most of it remains to this day — in the Basilica of St. Nicholas.

That’s where most of Santa’s bones are anyhow.

But not all.

The rest of his skeleton was collected by Venetian “sailors” and brought to Venice a few decades later.

But during the crusades, some Norman soldiers from Ireland “borrowed” St. Nicholas’s bones and brought them back home with them. The bones were buried — to keep them from being stolen presumably — and the site of the burial is marked by a stone slab to this day.

St. Nick’s tomb, Irish version.

And over the centuries, St. Nicholas’s bones — or bones purported to be that of St. Nick — have been dispersed around the world. St. Nicholas finger bones and teeth and pelvises have been found from Palestine to Morton Grove, IL.

In 2001, some of the relics were lost when the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in New York was destroyed by the collapse of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.

In 2009, Turkey formally requested that Italy return St. Nick’s bones to their original resting spot. Italy hasn’t returned them yet, but in 2017, the Pope loaned one of St. Nicholas’s ribs to the Russian Orthodox Church.

So maybe this Christmas, instead of Santa bringing us gifts, maybe we should think about giving him his bones back.

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