Archaeologists in southern Turkey have recently discovered the exact burial ground of Saint Nicholas. Yes, that Saint Nicholas—the inspiration for Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas l Aleska Petrov
As is true with many legends, Saint Nicholas was once a real-live person. Very little is known about his life—in fact, no historical documents even prove his existence (sound like Santa Claus much?!)—but some details seem to be consistent: Nicholas was born in March in 270 AD. He came from wealth, but his parents died when he was young. They left Nicholas a large inheritance. He was raised by his uncle, also named Nicholas, who was the bishop of the Greek Orthodox church in the Mediterranean port town of Patara. Young Nicholas followed the same path and became a bishop too. He presided in the seaside town of Myra in Asia-Minor (which later became Demre, Turkey).
Multiple stories of the eventually anointed St. Nick describe his good deeds and gifts to people who were poor and sick. But there are fantastical tales you may not know. He supposedly stopped a storm to save soldiers at sea. It is reported that he rid a cypress tree of demons. There are stories that he resurrected three children from the dead, who had been killed to sell as ham! (According to lore, this was during a famine and people were desperately hungry, but still—gruesome!).
Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD and although it was known that his body was buried in a church in Myra, its exact location was a mystery because his remains were stolen in 1087 AD and brought to Italy.
In 2017, experts figured out that Saint Nicholas had been buried somewhere under the church in Myra. (How did they do that? By using electronic surveys that showed empty space between its floor and foundation, which indicated the possibility of a tomb.) Archaeologists began excavating the church in hopes of finding St. Nick’s remains.
In October, 2022, they discovered, under much silt and sand, the tile floor of a different church, the original one where Saint Nicholas actually walked, and on top of which the Myra church had been built. They also uncovered a fresco depicting Jesus on the wall, indicating the exact burial spot of the generous Saint.
Exploring the past with modern technology | DW History Documentary
Perhaps the most popular story of Saint Nicholas’ altruism was about a man who was so poor he felt forced to sell his three daughters. Saint Nicholas heard about the family’s troubles and vowed to help them—but in secret. One night he threw gold coins through their window under cover of darkness. The next night he did the same. On the third night, the man stayed up and caught him, but promised not to reveal his identity.
This solidified Saint Nicholas’ reputation as a protector of children and this, coupled with his love of giving anonymous gifts, became the template for Santa Claus. In fact, in many countries, children receive gifts on December 6, St. Nicholas Day, instead of December 25.
Here’s one more astonishing story about the bishop-turned-babbo natale. (“Babbo Natale”is the Italian name for Santa Claus! Did you know he has over one hundred other names?). Remember how his remains were stolen and brought to Italy? They were stolen a second time and distributed across the world. His hip bone, for instance, is said to be in a church in Illinois.
No wonder his presence is felt all over the world!
Saint Nicholas' hipbone | Higham & G. Kazan
It’s tough to get published, so sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. Just ask Dillon Helbig, the eight-year-old boy from Boise, Idaho, who spent four days in December 2021 writing an adventure book (they take a really long time to write!). Dillon knew he had penned a winner: in this time-travel saga, starring Dillon himself, a star explodes on top of a Christmas tree, hurtling Dillon into an encounter with Santa, a tree portal, and the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
Dillon was excited about his masterpiece—but a book is meant to be shared, isn’t it?
Dillon wins the first ever “Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist” l Susan Helbig
The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis by “Dillon His Self” received its unofficial debut when he slipped his book into a library shelf at the Lake Hazel branch of the Ada Community Library on a trip with his grandmother. Dillon was confident his book would become a hit. But that night, he got cold feet. He began to feel guilty. Maybe messing with his library’s book collection was wrong? So he told his parents what he’d done. They called the library and Dillon confessed. They’d come back in, they said, to retrieve the book.
But the librarians had already read Dillon’s book, and they loved it so much they put it into their catalog system. “It deserves a spot on our library shelves,” Mr. Hartman, Manager of the branch, told the New York Times. “It’s a good story.” The only change they made was moving it out of their fiction section and onto their shelf of graphic novels. With 81 pages chock full of illustrations—it made sense. (Note: always trust the librarian.)
Dillon Helbig holding his book | Helbig family
Dillon said his idea was inspired by his father, Alex, who did something very similar when he was a young boy: he created 100 copies of an album he made and left them at music stores in his neighborhood. Like father, like son. (Ironically, this “seeding” promotional technique also helped Choose Your Own Adventure become the phenomenon it was in the 80’s!).
By the end of January 2022, Dillon’s book had a waitlist 56 people long! Dillon’s classmates were impressed. Children who visited the library were inspired to write their own stories. A local author even offered to hold writing workshops with the famous Dillon.
The Lake Hazel librarians bestowed upon Dillon their first ever “Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist” (named after the library’s owl mascot). They look forward to his second book, The Jacket-Eating Closet. According to Dillon, his new book is based on his own experiences. “Every time in kindergarten, I put my jacket in the closet and during recess, it would be gone. The jackets are still gone and that's why I'm making the book,” he said.
Dillon Helbig | Helbig family
We caught up with Dillon just a few days ago and asked him a few questions:
Hi Dillon! So it’s been about a year since you snuck your book onto the library shelf. How do you feel about it now?
I feel good about it and that people actually liked it.
What cool things happened as a result of being brave and putting it there? Did we hear that you helped teach a writing class?
It was nice to get appreciation cards from all around the world, and people said I inspired them to write their own books. Plus, it’s been a lot of fun helping to teach a writing class for kids, so they could write their own books too.
You are a total rockstar! What’s your favorite thing about writing?
My favorite thing is that I get to draw pictures with my writing because it helps people understand the story.
What are your favorite things about librarians and libraries?
That the library is a quiet place for my mom and librarians are helpful in helping me find the graphic novel section.
Librarians are the best! What are you up to these days? Are you working on any new books? What else do you like to do with your time?
I’m working on two new books called Dillon and the Missing Fairytale and Dillon and the Army of Cyborgs, both by Dillon His Self. I also like to write comic books, build stuff on one of my video games, and I love to make “Stop Motion” and short adventure movies. I spend a lot of time doing that. I put them up on YouTube. You can see them here if you want. [Note from CYOA: Watch the Little BigFoot movie. Seriously. Watch it now. It’s amazing.]
The crew here at Choose Your Own Adventure fell in love with you and your story for so many reasons, one of which is the unique way you had an adventure: by daring to share your creativity! What do you think adventure is?
What I think adventure is, is that it’s something you can have fun in and experience things you have never experienced before.
And finally, we gotta know a few “favorites” facts! What is your favorite book—that you didn’t write?
Agreed. Excellent series. What is your favorite ice cream?
Yum. And what is your favorite animal?
Puppies are awesome, and we agree, a series of ice cream flavors is the way to go!! Thank you for talking with us Dillon, and keep writing!
The northern lights have entranced humans across the globe with their spectacular sky show of color for thousands of years. Also called the aurora borealis (named by the astronomer Galileo, in 1619: after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind), this natural wonder has been attributed to many magical things.
Northern lights over the Víkurkirkja church at Vik in Iceland l AstroAnthony
In Finland, for example, the word for the northern lights is revontulet, which means “fox fires,” and Finnish folklore says the aurora borealis is caused by a fox sweeping snow up into the sky with its tail. The Sami (indigenous peoples to Norway, Sweden, Finland, and some of Russia) told stories of the northern lights coming from the souls of dead ancestors. The Dene (indigenous peoples of Canada) believed they were the spirits of friends dancing in the sky. In Scandinavian fishing communities, the aurora borealis was once believed to be made up of a huge school of herring in the ocean. To see the sillblixt (“herring flash”) meant you would have good fishing luck.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that scientists began to illuminate the causes for the northern lights. The first images depicting them are believed to be Cro-Magnon cave-paintings called macaronis (think finger painting in clay) dating back to 30,000 B.C. that were found in northern Spain. In 1790, English philosopher and scientist Henry Cavendish made quantifiable observations that determined the lights were produced about 60 miles above Earth’s surface. And then around 1902, Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland did a number of experiments with his team that led them to better understand the electric current pattern in the polar region.
(Because Birkeland lived in Norway, by the way, he saw the aurora borealis many times as he grew up and published his first scientific paper when he was only eighteen! It pays to be curious!).
We know much more about the northern lights now. Energized particles from the sun’s corona (upper atmosphere) create solar wind, which careens into Earth’s ionosphere (our upper atmosphere) at crazy fast speeds—up to 45 million mph. (It takes about 18 hours to get to Earth!). Once the solar wind arrives, Earth’s magnetic field directs the particles to the poles where the solar wind collides with different gasses in the atmosphere. These gasses, in turn, absorb and reflect unique colors. Blue and purple are produced by nitrogen molecules, while green and red are produced by oxygen molecules, and Tadaa! An amazing light show.
But not if you’re looking at the northern lights with your plain old eyes. The lights are too faint to be easily detected by the color-focused cells in the eye (called cones), so so they appear with less contrast and sometimes fainter in color. It is through the lens of a camera that we can see the enhanced spectrum of color.
Roi Levi, a renowned astrophotographer, knows this well. In October he went to Vesterhorn Mountain in the southern part of Iceland (where a super steep mountain meets the flat, black sandy shore) and used a new photo shooting technique to get a spectacular shot of the aurora borealis and the constellation Orion together—not an easy task. Roi used a special nebula filter that blocks out most of the spectrum, letting in only the parts that come from cosmic gas clouds: hydrogen atoms and oxygen ions. The result is a better contrast between the focus of a cosmic photograph (in this case Orion) and the rest of the night sky. Basically it tones down the light you don’t want to see (think about a street light blocking the stars in a city sky), letting the subject matter shine (bad pun!). By taking photos with the lens and without it, in combination with a special app, he was able to get Orion and the lights together.
Roi’s photo is so unique it was recognized by NASA as one of their Astronomy Picture of the Day honors. It also got a shout-out from the European Space Agency.
Aurora Borealis and Orion in Iceland l Roi Levi
Want to know what the northern lights are doing now? Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which gives aurora forecasts every half hour. And plan your trip to Iceland! The solar cycle lasts about eleven years and when solar spot activity is high, the northern lights are brighter and more abundant. The last high activity year was 2014. Roi Levi leads tours, and you can book your ticket for 2025…