Real Santa Claus: St. Nicholas Didn't Look (Or Behave Himself) Quite Like You've Imagined

It's probably been a few years since you were last imagining what Santa Claus would look like shuffling around your house in the dead of night before Christmas morning. Still, the image you conjure to mind for him probably looks something like this: white beard, red hat and suit, and a giant belly. But a new 3-D rendering by a Liverpool team of researchers argues that -- down to his white facial hair -- Santa Claus looks nothing like the man on whom he is based, reported BBC News.

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Though Santa Claus is clearly a fictional re-imagining of the historical figure, it's still interesting to see all of the ways the figure we know today contrasts with the original man. For one, St. Nicholas' Mediterranean heritage indicates that he would have had a grey beard; other details about his life also cast him with a distinctly broken nose.

That broken nose is most likely related to the confrontational way that historians believe St. Nicholas lived his life, sharply contrasting with the modern Santa Claus' benevolent spirit. One particular incident, reported The Washington Post, involved St. Nicholas being thrown into jail for attacking another man during a theological debate.

"One of the churchmen rises to speak. Arius, from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, tells the gathering that Jesus was not divine. He was just a prophet. Suddenly, a second man is on his feet, an obscure, cantankerous bishop named Nicholas. He approaches Arius, fist raised menacingly. There are gasps. Would he dare? He would. Fist strikes face. Arius goes down. He will have a shiner. Nick, meanwhile, is set upon by holy men. His robes are torn off. He is thrown into a dungeon."
Clearly, modern representations of St. Nicholas have come a long way from the life actually lived by the Greek bishop of Myra (now southern Turkey), who died around 343 CE. The researchers, however, clearly understood that the magic of Santa Claus is not lost on children just because of his crooked nose and dark beard -- Professor Caroline Wilkinson and her team first presented their rendition to a group of elementary school students, reported The Liverpool News.
"This is the most realistic appearance of St. Nicholas based on all the skeletal and historical material. It is thrilling for us to be able to see the face of this famous 4th century Bishop. It was important to us to involve the local children in the reveal of the latest depiction of the face of St Nicholas and I hope that they will think of his face every year on St. Nicholas's feast day."
How does this St. Nicholas recreation contrast with your ideas about Santa Claus?

[Image via Flickr and Liverpool John Moores University]