Today is Saint Nicholas Day, and I thought it would be interesting to look into the life of this man who chose to serve God with his life and resources and ended up becoming the "model" for the fictional character, Santa Claus.
I have read many articles in order to find out more about this man who chose to obey Jesus' words, "Sell what you own and give the money to the poor," literally.
Many of the accounts share a common thread. Many of the accounts talk about miracles that were performed. Many of the accounts talk about Nicholas' love for children.
Because there is so much folklore associated with St. Nicholas, I am not sure which, if any, of the miracles are true. However, when someone chooses to live for Christ, there is no holding back what God can do through that person.
I will mainly give you the facts of his life and also explain where we get some of our traditions from.
Nicholas was born a Greek in the city of Patara which was in a Greek region at the time but is now in modern day Turkey. He was an only child, and his devout Christian parents were very wealthy. During an epidemic, both of Nicholas' parents died and he was sent to live with an uncle, also named Nicholas, who was a bishop, and who later ordained young Nicholas as a priest.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, persecution of Christians grew. Some accounts say that during this time, he began to work as a sailor on his family's fleet of ships, and others say that he suffered for his faith, was exiled, and imprisoned.
In 325 AD, Nicholas was one of the priests to accept Constantine's invitation to the First Council of Nicaea and signed the Nicene Creed.
Nicholas died on December 6, 343 in Myna, also now part of modern day Turkey.
In the years after his death, different accounts were shared of how this man had touched so many lives.
One of the most popular accounts was that of a poor man who had three daughters. In those days, if a girl did not have a dowry, she would not marry well or would most likely not marry at all and in some cases would be sold into slavery.
Upon hearing this, Nicholas went to the home in the evening and tossed three bags of gold through the window of the home in order to secure a dowry for these three young ladies. In some accounts there were stockings and shoes that had just been washed hanging to dry by the fire place and one of the bags managed to land inside a stocking. Hence our tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace to be filled with goodies.
In some accounts, this happened over a series of days, in others it happened over a series of years (just before the girl would come of age). In one account, the father waits to find out who the secret benefactor is and goes out to thank Nicholas. Nicholas responds that he is not he one to receive thanks, but God alone.
Another account, which has a somewhat historical basis to it, tells of a time when the people of Myna were experiencing a famine. A ship loaded with wheat was anchored in port. Nicholas asked the sailors to give the people some of the wheat. The sailors argued with the idea at first because they needed to weigh and measure what was being given. However, in the end, they gave Nicholas, who told the sailors that they would not suffer any loss, an amount of wheat that fed the people of Myna for supposedly two years. When the ship containing the wheat reached its destination, the Emperor Constantine, the sailors found that the weight of their cargo had not changed. (This reminded me of the widow that Elijah helped.)
A few years ago, after watching the movie ST. NICHOLAS: A STORY OF JOYFUL GIVING, I was left in awe. I had not known much about St. Nicholas at all, but the movie stripped away the folklore and helped me see the heart of this man. The story in the movie is loosely based on the three girls who needed dowry money (these girls need one gold coin each to pay a fine for giving gifts).
I can certainly do without Santa Claus, but St. Nicholas has become a person that I respect for his willingness to give all that he had for benefit of those who had none, his heart of compassion for those who would have had no future, and his love of the One True God.