The Santa Claus character is based on a real person named Saint Nicholas who lived in the ancient city of Myra, which is now the town of Demre in Turkey.

According to records, he was born in the Mediterranean Sea port-city Patara, Turkey on March 15, 270 and died December 6, 343. While a young man, Saint Nicholas made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine to strengthen his faith, becoming Bishop of Myra shortly after returning home. During the Diocletian persecution, he was thrown into prison until being released after the accession of Constantine.

File photo shows the interior of St Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey. Experts believe that the grave of St. Nicholas, the historical inspiration for Santa Claus, may be beneath the church.  (Kenan Olgun/iStock)

Saint Nicholas became known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker” for performing miracles and is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. Today, he is most famous for starting the tradition of secret gift-giving that is now embodied by the Santa Claus character.

Because of his sainthood, Saint Nicholas’ bodily remains were regarded as sacred and somehow or another split up and spread to different churches around the world.

A new study by Oxford University reveals the bones claimed to belong to Good Old Saint Nick do correctly match the date. Professor Tom Higham and Dr. Georges Kazan, the Directors of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Center, tested one of these alleged Saint Nicholas bones for the first time ever. They took a very tiny bone fragment, radiocarbon-dated it, and found it to belong to the 4th century AD, which correlates to the saint’s recorded death in 343 AD.

Professor Higham said: ‘Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest. This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself.’

The bone they studied is one of several belonging to Father Dennis O’Neill, of St. Martha of Bethany Church, Shrine of All Saints, in Morton Grove Illinois, USA. He collected the bones from various churches and private owners across Europe and one is just half a pelvis bone. The interesting thing is, that another collector has the other half of this pelvis, which sparked the Oxford professor’s curiosity to validate their authenticity. This was the oldest artifact Oxford University has ever studied dating back some 1,700 years.

Dr. Kazan said: ‘These results encourage us to now turn to the Bari and Venice relics to attempt to show that the bone remains are from the same individual. We can do this using ancient paleogenomics, or DNA testing. It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could, in fact, be genuine.’

Despite advanced breakthroughs in scientific analysis, without knowing which bones actually belonged to the real Saint Nicholas, there can be no strong confirmation that any of the 500 bone fragments are his either. Researchers can only narrow down the possibilities to increase the probability.

Basically, the study can only say some of these remains belong to the same man that died approximately the same time as Saint Nicholas. So, it seems somethings will just have to be left to faith, and faith is what the holy days are all about anyway.