Saint Nicholas b. 270 AD was a Bishop in what is now Turkey. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas which was a translation of Saint Nikolaos.
Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Patara which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea and lived in Myra, part of modern-day Turkey. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents. His parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was a bishop. Under his tutelage Nicholas became a priest.
In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, to attend the Council of Nicaea the resulted in the still well respected Nicene Creed. Nicholas is one of the signers of the creed.
One legend of Nicholas that seems to have some historical basic is: a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and after their father’s death be in terrible want. Hearing of this, Nicholas decided to help him, but because of Nicholas’s modest and to save the man’s pride, Nicholas went to the poor man’s house under the cover of night and threw a purse filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man”s house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and third daughter. The last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor the young, wealthy priest.
The poor man wanted to tell everyone what Nicholas had done but The humble minister deflected the praise. “No, all thanks go to God, not to me.”
The father answered, “I need to let everybody know you did this.”
The bishop responded, “No, you must promise me that not until I”m dead will you let anyone know how you received the gold.” This compassionate bishop believed literally Christ’s injunction that when we give, we should do so in secret, sacrificially in Christ’s name and not our own.
The merchant promised that he would tell no one of the way this minister helped save this family. After his death the poor man told of Nicholas’s generosity and suddenly man others came forward with their own tales. The stories spread and the world learned there had been many such acts by the modest Bishop Nicholas.
Others sometimes gave gifts in secret and it became tradition to give Nicholas credit for those gifts and the secret gifts tradition spread, especially at Christmas time.
The reputation of St. Nicholas had a difficult time during the 16th century Protestant Reformation which took a dim view of saints. Reformers and counter-reformers tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs. Common people loved St. Nicholas, though. The gift giving became even more rooted in gifts left secretly in the night. People placed nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth, which led to the theory that St. Nicholas sneaked down the chimney.
Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be honored. His final tranformation into the red robed, jolly, fat man with flying reindeer came in 1822, in the classic Clement Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.
Whatever his gifts or robes or mode of transportation–and whatever our family traditions during Christmas–St. Nicholas endures as example of Christ”s call to selfless giving.
1. The Outlaw’s Gift by Linda Goodnight
1880s Oklahoma Territory
When drifter Seth Blackstone shows up at Raven Patterson’s homestead, Raven thinks this may be the solution to all her problems. But Seth’s mysterious past is about to catch up with him and could mean disaster for them both.
2. The Christmas Candle by Mary Connealy
Arkansas Ozarks 1883
Gabe Wagner, has left his hectic city life and moved onto Rose Palmer’s mountain. His plans to build a house will tear the heart out of her Ozark Mountain home. Rose learns that what she calls peace and quiet has evolved into isolation and loneliness. As Christmas approaches and she searches for the perfect way to honor the Savior’s birth, she realizes she wants to let Gabe into her life. But to do it, she may have to face a larger world that frightens her while she gives up the safe life she has always known.Can the search for the perfect Christmas candle and the broken hearts of two little boys bring a solitary woman and a grieving man together?