The Story of Saint Nicholas
Every year on December 24th, millions of children around the world hang their stockings by the fireplace, excitedly anticipating gifts on Christmas morning. But where did this custom stem from? If you don’t know much about the origins of Santa Claus, you might be surprised to learn that he was a real, living person. St Nicholas was a fourth century saint who devoted his life to serving God.
Also known as Nikolaos of Myra, because of where he lived and worked as a Bishop, Nicholas had a reputation for kindness and compassion. His wealthy parents died when he was young and, being a devout Christian, he decided to follow Jesus Christ’s words to “sell your possessions and give the money to the poor”. He spent his entire inheritance helping people in need. He was very fond of children and also helped mariners when they were in trouble.
Many stories have been told about the life and kindness of St Nicholas. One such story tells of a man who had three young daughters, but was so poor that he couldn’t afford to pay their dowries. This meant that the girls were likely to stay unmarried and possibly be sold into slavery or prostitution. Nicholas heard of the man’s situation and, one night while the family was sleeping, threw three bags of gold coins into the house through an open window. The money is believed to have landed in stockings and shoes which had been left to dry by the fire. This earned him a reputation as a gift-giver and children began hanging stockings and leaving shoes by the fireplace, hoping for a present from Saint Nick.
Another story says that a famine once struck the island, and an evil butcher lured three young children into his house where he slaughtered them and kept their remains in a pickling barrel. He planned to make some money by selling them off as ham. However, Nicholas had come to help the starving people of the region and saw straight through the butcher’s crime (some say he saw what happened in a dream). As he prayed, appealing to God to spare the children and return them to their families, they were miraculously brought back to life. This is how he acquired his reputation as a helper and protector of children.
Nicholas performed many other good deeds and miracles, most of them in secret and never expecting anything in return. Nowadays he is revered by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and honored by Protestants and Lutherans. He is the patron saint of more people and places than any other saint. His causes include children, sailors, students, maidens, paupers, archers and even thieves and prisoners.
His legacy lives on in the form of Santa Claus. He has taken a huge leap from fourth century Christian Bishop of Myra (modern day Turkey) to immortal ‘jolly old elf’ living in the North Pole, but his spirit remains the same and he still brings joy – and gifts – to children all over the world every year, more than 17 centuries after his death.