The history of St. Nicholas is a combination of facts and legend. Popular culture celebrates his generosity during the Christmas Season in the United States.
St. Nicholas is a real person. Nicholas was born in Patara (a province in Asia) between 260 and 280). His parents died in an epidemic while he was still young. His uncle, (probably an abbot) raised him.
Eventually Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra (now Turkey). Nicholas is believed to have been one of only three men to be ordained bishop without first serving as a priest. Nicholas is believed to have been a monk. He would have been ordained deacon, then priest, before he could have been ordained Bishop. The other two bishops who had not served as priests were St. Ambrose and St. Severus).
Nicholas was known for secret gift giving. It is believed he secretly helped three young girls without dowries by throwing gold coins through their window. This made it possible for them to escape a life of poverty. He is also known for defending the imprisoned. He saved the lives of three Roman officers unjustly charged with conspiracy.
Under the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian the church was severely persecuted. Bishop Nicholas suffered exile and imprisonment. After his release he attended the Council of Nicaea which condemned Arianism. Arianism denies both the divinity of Christ and the trinity. Nicholas name appears on several lists of those in attendance.
St. Nicholas was known for doing kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. He died on Dec. 6 in Myra. He is buried in his cathedral Church.
One of many legends added to his name is the story that he calmed the sea while on a ship returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The transition to Santa Clause took place in the 1100’s. In the Netherlands the saints’ image was used in connection to gift giving to children. At the same time, French Nuns began leaving candy and gifts to children in need. This custom of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day spread throughout Europe. During the 16th century, the time of the Reformation; these customs moved into the popular culture. It began to be celebrated by both the rich and the poor. In America, Santa Claus became a symbol of charity and generosity following World War II when troops in war-torn Europe dressed as Santa Claus at Christmas time to give food and toys to the children.
European immigrants to the U.S., especially the Dutch, brought tradition of St. Nicholas to the U.S.: stocking were hung, oranges became symbols of gold for a dowry and candy canes represented the bishop’s staff. Secret gift giving became part of the popular culture for almost everyone during the Christmas Season.
Prayer in honor of St. Nicholas
Lord, we thank you for good St. Nicholas, who was known for his love and care for children. Through his intercession we ask you to help us always to take care of children, to protect and guide them, and to keep them safe. Help us to be open to all that children can teach us about pure joy and unconditional love, during this Christmas Season. May we in turn help our children to grow into the loving persons that you created them to be. Keep us mindful of the needs of others and to reach out with love and generosity as St. Nicholas did. We rejoice in your servant St. Nicholas and pray that we too may follow you with singleness of heart and mind. Amen
St. Nicholas is the patron of needy children. His feast day is Dec. 6.
St. Nicholas is also known as St. Nicholas the Wonder worker