The Man Behind Santa Claus
Before there was a Santa Claus, there was a Saint Nicholas. Nicholas is a Christian saint known for his generosity. Born in the village of Patara in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century and died on December 6th around 343 AD. Although historical facts about the saint are few, legends are many.
The most popular story about St. Nicholas illustrates his generosity. A poor man had three daughters, but was unable to provide a dowry for any of them. Without a dowry the daughters faced the possibility of being sold into prostitution. St. Nicholas heard about the plight of the daughters and secretly tossed a bag of gold for each one into the poor man’s home. The legend says that the gold landed either in the girls’ shoes or their stockings, which had been left near the fireplace to dry. (Sound familiar?) Some versions of the story say that he left gold balls instead of bags of gold and these balls, sometimes seen as oranges, have become a symbol of the saint.
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of many things (people, places, and professions) including children. One legend has St. Nicholas (after he had died) miraculously returning a child who had been stolen into slavery back to his parents. Other legends have him praying to God and bringing students and children back to life after their murders.
December 6th is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. This day is celebrated in many countries. Oftentimes parties are held on December 5th and children will leave out their shoes or stockings in the hopes that St. Nicholas will fill them with treats.
I remember the St. Nicholas Day parties my mom gave when I was young. She’d invite a small group of friends and family to our home, already decorated for Christmas. We’d have wonderful hors d’oeuvers and guests received small gifts. Although we don’t have St. Nicholas Day parties anymore, I do still receive a St. Nicholas Day card.
As we enter this holiday season consider St. Nicholas, the man behind Santa Claus, and see how his generosity can inspire you.
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