Saint Nicholas, the 4th century saint who inspired our modern
figure of Santa Claus, was born near Myra , a port on the
Mediterranean Sea serving the busy sea lanes that linked
the seaports of Egypt , Greece , and Rome . Ships sailing
these waters, laden with grain and all kinds of goods, found
safety in the port from raging storms and menacing pirates.
Nicholas came from one of the city's wealthy
merchant families, but he was not spoiled by his family's
wealth. His mother and father taught him to be generous
to others, especially those in need. So Nicholas came to
see that helping others makes one richer in life than anything
One day, by chance, Nicholas heard about
a rich man in Myra who lost all his money when his business
failed. The man had three lovely daughters, all wishing
to get married, but he had no money for their marriage.
Besides, who would marry them, he thought, since their father
is such a failure? With nothing to eat, the man in desperation
decided to sell one of his daughters into slavery. At least
then the rest of them might survive.
That night before the first daughter was
to be sold, Nicholas, with a small bag of gold in his hand,
softly approached their house, and, tossing the gold through
an open window, quickly vanished into the darkness.
The next morning, the father found a bag
of gold lying on the floor next to his bed. He had no idea
where it came from. "Maybe it's counterfeit," he thought.
But as he tested it, he knew it was real. He went over the
list of his friends and business associates. None of them
could possibly have given him this.
The poor man fell to his knees and great
tears came to his eyes. He thanked God for this beautiful
gift. His spirits rose higher than they had been for a long
time because someone had been so unexpectedly good to him.
He arranged for his first daughter's wedding and there was
enough money left for the rest of them to live for almost
a year. Often he wondered: who gave them the gold?
But by the end of the year, the family
again had nothing, and the father, again desperate and seeing
no other way open, decided his second daughter must be sold.
But Nicholas, hearing about it, came by night to their window
and tossed in another bag of gold as before. The next morning
the father rejoiced, and, thanking God, begged His pardon
for losing hope. Who, though, was the mysterious stranger
giving them such a gift?
Each night afterwards the father watched
by the window. As the year passed their money ran out. In
the dead of one night he heard quiet steps approaching his
house and suddenly a bag of gold fell onto the floor. The
father quickly ran out to catch the one who threw it there.
He caught up with Nicholas some distance away and recognized
him, for the young man came from a well-known family in
"Why did you give us the gold?" the father
"Because you needed it," Nicholas answered.
"But why didn't you let us know who you were?" the man asked
again. "Because it's good to give and have only God know
When the bishop of Myra died, the priests
and leading people of the city along with the neighboring
bishops came together in their cathedral to select a new
bishop. They prayed and asked God to point out who it would
be. In a dream, God said to one of them that they should
all pray together the next morning. Someone would come through
the cathedral door as they prayed. He should be their choice.
It was Nicholas who entered the cathedral
the next morning. Immediately, the people of the city named
him their bishop, for they knew that this unassuming person,
whose good deeds they had learned about, was meant by God
to lead them.
As bishop of Myra , Nicholas seemed more
aware than ever of people's needs. He would appear all over
the city offering help to anyone in difficulty, then quietly
disappear without waiting for thanks. He shunned publicity.
Still, his reputation as a holy man grew and grew, even
spreading to distant cities that had never seen him.
He was especially interested that families
had enough to eat and a good place to live, that children
got ahead in life, and that old people lived out their lives
with dignity and respect. And he always loved the sailors
living so dangerously on the sea. Without their ships, people
everywhere would be without food and other goods they carried
Yet it is as a lover of children that Nicholas
is best remembered today. While he lived, he gave the little
ones he met small gifts-- some candy, a toy. His kindness,
which always managed to surprise them, touched their hearts,
and they learned from this holy man what a beautiful thing
In the figure of Santa Claus, whose name
and activity Nicholas inspired, we have this saint with