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  • Writer's picturePhil


St Nicholas was a real person, born to a wealthy family in Lycia, Asia Minor (now Turkey) sometime between 270 and 280 AD. Today in some European countries - the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, parts of Germany, northern France (French Flanders, Lorraine, and Artois), Spain and Hungary, St Nicholas will be seen, as above, in the streets of cities with his red cope and red mitre, sporting a luxurious white beard, and looking strangely familiar.

Nicholas was orphaned at an early age,was raised in a monastery, and became one of the youngest priests ever to be ordained at the age of 17. He travelled to Palestine and Egypt before returning to Lycia, where he was called to become Bishop of Myra. Nicholas, a very generous man, was known for his charity and wisdom,

and he gave away his wealth to those in need.

He would often go out at night, disguised in a hooded cloak,

to leave gifts of money, clothing or food for the poor and underprivileged.

He died on 6 December 340, and soon many stories and legends grew around him-

Many of them concern his love and care for children,

and how he fed the hungry, brought release to prisoners,

saved those in danger on the seas,

healed the sick and cared for the oppressed.

For these reasons he has become the patron saint

of children, and especially those in moral danger,

prisoners (he was imprisoned himself under Diocletian),

sailors, bakers, inn-keepers, and traditionally, pawnbrokers.

On his release from prison by Constantine

he attended the Council of Nicea (from which comes the Nicene Creed).

On his way to the Council of Nicea, Nicholas entered an inn,

whose owner had killed two boys for their meagre belongings.

The innkeeper placed the boys in barrels of brine,

and was going to sell them or serve them up in pies!

St. Nicholas restored the boys to life and converted the innkeeper.

Another story of St. Nicholas' goodness,

and a strong part of the traditions of Christmas presents

comes from the story of the three marriageable daughters and their father.

The family was very poor, and the father had no dowry to marry them.

The father was going to put them out of the house and sell them for prostitution.

Nicholas heard of this and then took a purse filled with gold coins

and threw it in the father's window at night

(some traditions say he threw the gold bags down the chimney)

A few days later, the oldest daughter married.

Nicholas returned shortly with another purse,

threw it in the father's window and soon the second daughter was married.

He returned again with a third purse, but the father was waiting for St. Nicholas.

He recognized him, fell at Nicholas' feet and wept in penitence and gratitude.

The bags of gold chocolate coins we give at Christmas-time

originate from this particular act of generosity on St.Nicholas's part.

Dutch Protestant settlers in New Amsterdam (New York City) replaced Nicholas (Sinterklaas) with the benevolent old man who became known as Santa Claus, thus contributing further to his spreading folklore.

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