(3rd century)

Of course, even little children know Santa Claus! The name we call him today is a derivative of the Dutch, “Sint Nikolaas,” which later evolved into “Sinterklaas.”

Get the connection?

But what of the real man upon whom the famous holiday spirit is based?

Nicholas was born at Patara, a seaside town in Licia, in southern Turkey. Raised as a Christian by a good family, he was orphaned at a young age.

Nicholas, remembering the rich young man in the Gospel, used his inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the poor. He was elected bishop of Myra, and under the emperor Diocletian was exiled and imprisoned.

After being freed, he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. He died in Myra on Dec. 6, 343.

Many stories have been handed down about Nicholas, all testifying to a life spent in service to the weak, the small and the defenseless.

One of the most ancient stories about St. Nicholas involves a man with three daughters of marriageable age. The family was poor, and the young girls were in danger of being forced into prostitution because their father could not afford to offer a suitable dowry.

One night, Nicholas went to the family’s home, and threw a bag of coins through the open window — then fled before he could be identified. With the money, the father was able to procure a marriage for his eldest daughter. Nicholas returned twice more, always at night so that he could not be identified. But the third time, the father rushed out of the house to identify his mysterious benefactor. Nicholas begged him not to tell anyone what he had done.

Another story tells how St. Nicholas freed a young boy, Basileos, who had been kidnapped from his home in Myra, and forced to serve as a cupbearer for a foreign potentate. While his parents prayed for his safety, St. Nicholas appeared to Basileos, and miraculously restored him to his family — still holding the potentate’s golden cup.

These and similar stories helped to spread devotion to St. Nicholas as patron of children and young people, but he is also known as the patron of mariners. A story goes that Nicholas boarded a ship to take him on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Following in the footsteps of the Lord, Nicholas prayed that he might be able to experience more fully the closeness of Jesus and share in His sufferings. Returning to Greece, a frightful storm arose, and the ship he was on was in danger of flooding. Nicholas calmly prayed, and suddenly the wind ceased, and the waves died down, to the wonder of the sailors, who feared shipwreck.

When Nicholas died, he was entombed in Myra and his relics became a destination for pilgrims. It was said that a mysterious liquid that flowed from the relics had miraculous powers. The area in which the tomb was found was conquered by the Turks in the 10th century.

Sailors from Bari were able to acquire his relics and brought them to their town in Puglia in 1087. Two years later they were buried in the crypt of a new Church, which the Baresi had built over the place where a Byzantine palace had once stood. The relics were placed under the altar by Pope Urban II, as the Norman rulers of Puglia looked on.

The translation of the relics of St. Nicholas was seen in the Medieval period as an extraordinary event, and his sanctuary soon became an important goal for pilgrims, with the result that devotion to St. Nicholas “of Bari” (rather than “of Myra”) spread throughout the world.

The church of St. Nicholas in Bari is a place of pilgrimage for Roman and Orthodox Christians today.

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Nicholas of Bari, Bishop of Myra – Information on the – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2020, from–bishop-of-myra.html