I’m not talking about the “right jolly old elf” — with “eyes how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!” — but the real St. Nicholas, who was short with a broad face, according to a forensic reconstruction, and “a beard on his chin as white as the snow” would have been in keeping with religious tradition of the 4th century.
Little is known for certain about St. Nicholas of Myra, who lived in what is now Turkey circa A.D. 320, but tradition has it that he was a very generous bishop from a wealthy family.
He was the original Secret Santa, Adrian Bridge writes in The Telegraph.
The bishop of Myra gave without the recipients knowing, notes Bridge as he goes in search of St. Nicholas in the Turkish town of Demre. One version of his legend says that — taking pity on three girls who had reached the age of marriage but whose father had no money for dowries — he slipped into their chimney gold pieces, which fell into stockings drying by the fire.
By the 11th century, Nicolas was so famous, Italian sailors spirited away his bones. That’s how his remains ended up in a church in Bari in southern Italy. When his crypt was repaired in the 1950s, the Vatican asked an anatomy professor to take measurements and X-rays.
About a decade ago, an anthropologist at a British university used the data to make a 3-D model of St. Nick’s face. He was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and had a broken nose: