Today, December 6, is the Feast Day of St Nicholas. He was born in March of 270 AD in Patara, in modern day Turkey, and died on this date in 343 AD in Myra, also in modern day Turkey.
One fact of his life which is certain is that he was bishop of Myra in the fourth century. Accounts from the Greek Church say he was imprisoned in the reign of emporer Diocletian, who is known for his persecution of Christians. But Nicholas was reportedly present at the Council of Nicaea about 20 years later, attesting to his survival and release from prison. After his death in Myrna, he was buried at the city’s cathedral.
There are countless stories associated with his name, and all reveal there was something extraordinary about him. One story sheds light on why St Nicholas is associated with giving gifts. He was raised by Christian parents who taught him the faith very early in his life. His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a great deal of money. Nicholas wanted to use his fortune for charity. A local resident had lost all his money and had to care for three daughters who were unmarried. Nicholas took a bag of gold and at night and tossed it through an open window of the man’s house. This served as a “dowry” for the eldest girl who was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter.
Why is he called Santa Claus today? In St. Nicholas’ name, in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, gifts were bestowed on children at Christmas time. The Dutch Protestant settlers of New Amsterdam brought this custom to the new world. Legendary stories attributed St. Nicholas to be like a “Nordic magician” and his name –Saint Nicholas – was translated in their language as Sint Klaes, which today has become Santa Claus.
Information for this article was taken from “Lives of Saints,” published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.