Saint Nicholas (early 300s) was the Christian saint that Santa Claus comes from. He is one of the best loved saints, especially among the Eastern Orthodox. Because of him Nicholas is a common name. Because of him people get presents on Christmas.
Nicholas once knew a nobleman who was poor. He had three daughters but no money to marry them off. Nicholas could have just given him the money, but he was too proud to accept it.
Nicholas had an idea. In the middle of the night he secretly put gold into the daughters’ stockings that hung by the fire to dry. They all got married off.
This is where the idea of Christmas stockings come from. It is the one bit of Christmas that comes from the life of Nicholas.
The Dutch in New York gave their children gifts on St Nicholas’s Day, December 6th. The English liked the idea but did not believe in saints. So instead they gave their children presents three weeks later on Christmas. And over the years St Nicholas himself was changed from a Christian saint into a department store Santa.
St Nicholas was bishop of Myra in Lycia on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. In those days, before the Turks came, it was a Greek land ruled by Rome.
He was the only child of rich parents. They died when he was a boy. The ships that came from Egypt carrying grain to Rome stopped at Myra. One day they brought a terrible disease from Egypt. The plague killed his parents but not him. His uncle, the bishop, brought him up.
When he was a young man his uncle died too. The other bishops of the region came to Myra to choose a new bishop. One of them had a dream: God told him to choose the first man named Nicholas who came to church the next morning. That was how Nicholas became bishop even though he was so young.
In his day some still worshipped Diana, the old Greek goddess. They did it under a particular tree that was sacred to her. Nicholas had the tree cut down.
To get back at Nicholas, the story goes, Diana assumed the appearance of a holy woman and gave oil to some pilgrims on their way to his church. She told them to paint the walls of the church with it.
It was a trick. Just then a man who looked like Nicholas appeared and took the oil and threw it into the sea where it burst into flames, burning on the water for hours, saving the church and the lives of the pilgrims.
Most of his miracles were just like that: he appears at just the right time to save the day – to save men about to be lost at sea, to save princes about to have their heads cut off, and so on. But these appearances were just that: appearances. Nicholas himself was always far away at the time.
Feast day: December 6th.
– Abagond, 2007.