Saint Nicholas: The Real Santa Claus

By Monique Sammut | November 29, 2017
Saint Nicholas in a Nutshell

Saint Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara (modern day Turkey) into a wealthy, Christian family.  When Nicholas was still very young, his parents died of an epidemic.  He then sold his inheritance to help the poor and the suffering.

Nicholas became the bishop of Myra (also modern day Turkey) when he was still a young man.  He joined Saint Ambrose and Saint Severus in being appointed bishop without having served as a priest first.  He soon became widely known for his generosity and willingness to help those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

During the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for about five years.

Bishop Nicholas died on December 6, 343.  He was recognized as a saint before canonization became a formal process in the 10th century.  In those days, saints were declared by acclamation, which is unanimous consent of the people.

It is said that every year, the relics of Saint Nichols give off pure water that smells like rose water and is called manna or myrrh.  The water is believed to have miraculous powers.  It gradually seeps out of the tomb and is collected annually on Saint Nicholas’ feast day, December 6.  The “manna” helped to spread and foster the growth of the devotion to Saint Nicholas.

 History and Legend

Throughout the years, history and legend have blended together regarding the life of Saint Nicholas.

After his release from prison, Saint Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  It is said that Arius, a heretic whose teachings against the divinity of Christ led to the spread of a heresy known as Arianism, was also at the Council of Nicaea.  After a heated theological debate, Bishop Nicholas became so angry he walked across the room and slapped Arius!

Another well-known story established the tradition of Saint Nicholas as a gift-giver.  There was a wood-cutter who had three daughters.  In the days of Nicholas, when daughters were married, a father had to offer the potential husband a dowry – something valuable.  A woman was more likely to marry a good man with a larger dowry.  The poor woodcutter’s daughters had no dowry and were therefore going to be sold into slavery.  However, mysteriously, on three different nights, a bag of gold was tossed through an open window landing in some stockings or shoes that were left by the fire to dry.  Because of this gift by Nicholas, the three daughters were saved from slavery and given a future.  Because of this story, the tradition of leaving shoes by the fireplace on Saint Nicholas’ feast day began. Your kids can even find Saint Nicolas in their shoes this year along with their other favorite saint magnets and saint stickers.

“Lend Your Ear This Way”

Saint Nicholas is known as a great miracle worker and the patron saint of children, mariners, orphans, sailors, captives, and many others!  He is also known as the protector of those in trouble or in need.  His popularity spread widely throughout Eastern and Western Europe and is venerated by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.  Through his love, compassion, and generosity, Saint Nicholas has won his place in the hearts of many.

Celebrating a Feast Day

On the feast day of Saint Nicholas it is customary for children to place their shoes by the fireplace, windowsill, or bedroom door for Saint Nicholas to fill with toys, fruit, chocolate, candy, and coins. Some favorites for this year include our new Fishing for Saints game, Saint Stickers or Saint Magnets.  In Holland, it is said that children leave carrots and hay by their shoes for Saint Nicholas’ horse in the hopes that these will be exchanged for small gifts.  Giving gifts on this feast day can re-center the focus of Christmas on the birth of Christ instead of on presents.

Every December 6, Saint Nicholas should remind us that true joy lies not in receiving, but in giving!

“‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the stockings were hung on the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”