The True Story of Saint Nicholas

Nicholaos of Myra

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.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call”d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

 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.



Two Inspirational Christmas Stories …
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?
Website | + posts

Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

10 thoughts on “The True Story of Saint Nicholas”

  1. I really enjoy reading histories about St Nick. I think that it is wonderful that those who try to take away the Christ parts of Christmas forget that Santa has religious beginnings.

    I loved reading Candlelight Christmas….so much in fact I have read it twice. Thanks for a wonderful Christmas book. They are always my favorites and I could read them year round.

  2. Connie, thank you for the kind words about Candlelight Christmas. I read a lot of stuff about St. Nicholas while writing this and there are so many myths and legends it was hard to know what to include.

  3. Hi Mary, Thank you for pointing out that Santa had religious beginnings. I never agreed with those who thought Santa secular and commercial. What better way to celebrate Christ’s birth than to spread happiness and joy and that’s what Santa does.

    Merry Christmas: ho, ho, ho!

  4. I’ve always had this fantasy about someone walking up to me on the street and handing me some money. Sure would be something. Very interesting how Santa (St. Nick) came about. I didn’t know a lot of this.

    Loved your story in CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS. Linda Goodnight’s was very good also.

    Wishing you the merriest Christmas and a great 2013!

  5. Loved hearing about the history of it all. I remember my father saying that for Christmas they received oranges and nuts and it was a big treat. So much different than today.

  6. We always got such minimal gifts for Christmas catslady, but there were 8 kids and ZERO money. (that seemed to be true no matter how much my parents made…the cost of living with 8 kids was just….ALL OF IT)
    And, despite each of us just getting some small thing, there was still a fair sized pile under the tree because whatever it was…multiply it by 8.

  7. Mary, I loved this post! I always learn something when I read your posts. This was so interesting, and I’ve always loved “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”–that was the first poem I ever memorized. I remember my parents (Depression kids here in OK)talking about how lucky they felt to get an orange in their stocking. They got an apple, an orange and nuts. That tradition continued with me and my sisters, but they also put in a generous amount of Hershey’s kisses. My kids wouldn’t know what to do if they got fruit and nuts in their stockings! LOL It’s mainly candy of course, now. My parents always made sure we had a good Christmas–not extravagant, and lots of the stuff we got were items we “needed” — not “wanted”–but there were some of those, too.

  8. Cool post, Mary! I love learning the origins of the traditions and legends that today are kinda mushed together.

    My mom said, too, during the depression, a fresh orange was a treat. Even though she lived in sunny Southern California.

    Merry Christmas, everybody! xo

  9. Very interesting post, I loved it and you learn something new every day. Your new book looks very good will check it out.

  10. Thank you so much for the interesting post. I knew much of the later information about Nicholas, but not his early life. I wonder what he would think of his transformation to Jolly St. Nick? As long as the spirit of the season remains true to the origins, it doesn’t matter too much what form the jolly old fellow takes.

    I was the oldest of 6 and things were tight. Christmas was still a wonderful time. Even with just two gifts each, under the tree was full. We went to midnight mass as a family with my mother’s side of the family, then went to my grandparents’ house for brunch. We got home about 2AM and Santa would have come. We would open our gifts and then go back to bed. Smart on my parents’ part, they got to sleep in Christmas morning. We would go to my other grandparents’ for dinner on Christmas Day. With all the aunts, uncles, and cousins at both places, we had a great time – no presents necessary.

    I love anthologies, and this one sounds like a good one to add to my Christmas collection.

    Hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmastime.

Comments are closed.