The Real St. Nicholas
Commentary By The Pastor
It has always been a concern of mine that when
Christians rant about Santa Claus they act very un-Christlike. As I have
collected what I could find about the real St. Nicholas, I have often
wondered what he would think about Santa Claus as we adopted him into
the secular world. I wonder what the real St. Nicholas would think about
giving all those gifts to children on Christmas morning. I wonder what
the real St. Nicholas would think about all those people across the
United States who, on Christmas, spend most of the day working in soup
kitchens and homeless shelters serving a big turkey meal to the less
fortunate. I wonder what the real St. Nicholas must think about the
monumental sharing of love through gift giving we do as adults. I
suspect, as he peers down at us from heaven, St. Nicholas beams with
joy. I also wonder if God doesn't send St. Nicholas, in his spirit form,
around the world on Christmas eve to make sure as many children as
possible receive the joy of Christ. After all, St. Nicholas started
something that the secular world can't stop. In addition, in every
secular heart on Christmas day, there is that reminder to every secular
heart, that this day is not Santa Claus day, it is Christ's birthday.
Here is the real story, as best as we can determine, about the real St.
Reprinted for educational purposes only.
ST. NICHOLAS, THE GIFT GIVER (about AD 280- 349)
By Kathie Walters, Good News Ministries (www.goodnews.netministries.org/kathie.htm)
Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia. As a child he loved God and every
Weds. and Fri. fasted. He served in the monastery of Holy Sion, near
Myra and he eventually was ordained as Abbot. He was considered very
pious and charitable, and many great miracles were attributed to him.
Nicholas became Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor and was imprisoned for his
faith by the Emperor Diocletian during the persecutions.
He was present at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, where the
Arian doctrine was condemned officially by the church.
A rich merchant in Myra went bankrupt during Nicholas' tenure as Bishop.
The merchant had three daughters and no dowries for them (a real
disgrace). Incredibly, the merchant decided that his daughters might as
well become prostitutes, at least they would earn a living. When
Nicholas heard of this he devised a way to save the girls. He
surreptitiously tossed a bag of gold through the window one night. The
next day the father, amazed, used the money as a dowry for the eldest
daughter. A second time Nicholas did this, and the second daughter had
her dowry. The third time the father caught him and thanked him.
Nicholas, because of this and many other "anonymous" acts of
charity, became known as "the gift giver." Nicholas was also
known for his great charity to the outcasts, and rescue of children,
prisoners, and famine victims.
He died in Myra in 349 AD and was buried in the church there. The
Emperor Justinian built a church in his honor in Constantinople in 430
In 1087 AD, when the Saracens (Muslims) captured Myra, Nicholas bones
were stolen by merchants from Bari, Italy, and taken to the west. It was
reported that when they opened the casket a wonderful aroma filled the
whole area around.
Nicholas's bones arrived on May 9. Two Italian cities, Venice and Bari
vied for the honor of being selected to be the place where the bones
remained. There were many miracles that occurred during the pilgrimages.
These are reported about by John, Archdeacon of Bari. The same account
is also reported by Nicephonus, also of Bari, and confirmed by an
eyewitness who was commissioned by a magistrate of the city. It is
quoted in manuscripts by Baroniuis, and published by Falconiuis (see the
book, "Acts of St. Nicholas.)
Nicholas became a patron saint of children because from a small child he
loved and served God with all his heart. He loved to give and so he gave
and gave. He could not bear to see people in need. When he did see
people in need, he would devise ways to help them. He lived a holy and
uncompromisingly righteous life. In England alone there were 400
churches dedicated to him in the middle ages.
From Yahoo Britannica Concise:
Minor saint associated with Christmas. He was bishop of Myra in Asia
Minor. He is reputed to have provided dowries for three poor girls to
save them from prostitution and to have restored to life three children
who had been chopped up by a butcher. He became the patron saint of
Russia and Greece, of charitable fraternities and guilds, and of
children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers. After
the Reformation, his cult disappeared in all the Protestant countries of
Europe except Holland, where he was known as Sinterklaas. Dutch
colonists brought the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New York City),
and English-speaking Americans adopted him as Santa Claus, who lives at
the North Pole and brings gifts to children at Christmas.
Will the Real Santa Please Stand? Inviting Saint Nicholas Into Our
by Daria Gray and Jan Bear
Reprinted for educational purposes only.
No, Myra wasn't located at the North Pole. It was an important
seaport of the early Christian centuries, situated in what is now known
as Turkey. Nicholas, a wealthy young man brought up in a godly home,
gave away his inheritance to the needy. The young Bishop Nicholas was
imprisoned for his faith during the persecutions under the Roman emperor
Diocletian, and he was set free when Constantine released the religious
One of the most famous legends about his life tells of a poor man who
was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters. If he couldn't
get them married, he'd have to sell them into prostitution. Hearing of
the family's predicament, Nicholas took a bag (or a sock, as some
versions have it) of gold, enough for a dowry, and tossed it into the
family's house through the window (or down the chimney). He repeated his
anonymous gift for each of the daughters, enabling the girls to marry.
Another legend says that Saint Nicholas participated in the First
Ecumenical Council at Nicea. He was so incensed at some remark of the
heretic Arius about Christ and the Theotokos that he punched Arius in
the nose. That was considered an inappropriate debating technique, even
in that distant time when theology was important enough to fight about,
and the leaders of the council took away Nicholas' bishopric and put him
Christ and His mother appeared to those leaders, one bearing Nicholas'
omophorion (the stole marked with crosses that he and other bishops of
that period wear in iconographic depictions), and the other the book of
the Gospel. Taking their meaning, Nicholas' fellow bishops set him free
and returned him to office.
"Saint Nicholas, Hold the Tiller!"
There are many early legends about the miraculous interventions of Saint
Nicholas in the lives of those in peril. In one, Bishop Nicholas helped
three prisoners wrongly condemned to death. Coming to the scene of their
execution, he stopped the executioner and berated the governor until he
repented of having taken a bribe to have them killed. Three imperial
officers passing through the area learned of these events.
Later, back in Constantinople, these three officers were themselves
imprisoned and sentenced to death because of the intrigues of an
official in Constantine's court. Remembering Nicholas' mercy, the
officers prayed to God that through the bishop's intercession they might
be saved. That night, both the unjust official and Constantine himself
received a very early visit from Bishop Nicholas, in a dream. The next
morning, Constantine and the official agreed to set the officers free.
When sailors in the Christian East bless each other with the words,
"May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller!" they are alluding to a
story of sailors caught in a terrible storm. Having heard of the
holiness and power of the bishop of Myra, these sailors called on his
intercession. Nicholas came to them in a vision and took the helm
himself and guided the ship into port. When the sailors reached Myra,
they went to the Church, where they recognized their mysterious pilot.
Another time, a famine hit Lycea, and ships loaded with wheat came into
the harbor on the way from Alexandria to Constantinople. Bishop Nicholas
asked the crews to leave some of the wheat for his starving people. The
sailors refused at first, afraid of arriving at their destination with
less than a full load. At Nicholas' promise that there would be no
trouble, the sailors relented. And even though they left two years'
supply in Myra, the ships were full when they arrived in Constantinople.
These and many other acts of virtue have become Saint Nicholas' legacy
to the Church. His feast day, December 6, goes far back in Christian
history - at least to the ninth century, and very likely further than
that. And the Church has celebrated his memory in many ways: in
processions, in pageants, with special foods - some of which have become
American Christmas customs without our even realizing it.
Many of the fun activities that we now associate with the holidays arise
from commemorations of Saint Nicholas. Our practice of giving gifts at
Christmas time came from the commemoration of the dowries, as well as
the gifts of the Magi. The foil-covered chocolate coins that find their
way into Christmas stockings are reminiscent of the dowries, as are the
stockings themselves. And when we awake to find gifts that arrived
anonymously in the night, we can recall the socks full of gold that came
through the chimney (or the window) to save the lives of the three young
Our hooked candy canes are symbols of the bishop's crosier. And, early
in their history, gingerbread men wore bishops' robes. The image of
Saint Nicholas appeared on Byzantine seals more often than the image of
any other person, and stamps are still available to imprint the seal of
Saint Nicholas on cookies and other baked goods.
The Spirit of Saint Nicholas
These Christmas remembrances can save our religious life from a dreary
solemnity, but if they're the whole focus, we've missed the point. The
more important lesson of Saint Nicholas' miracles is that he sacrificed
to help people in need. And if we look carefully at those miracles, we
see that people like the ones he helped are still with us today: The
young women about to be sold into slavery? Our cities are full of young
people enslaved to drugs, prostitution, and violence. The prisoners?
Penitentiary inmates and their families have many needs, which translate
into opportunities to serve. The drowning sailors? In many parts of the
country, nonprofit organizations provide equipment and rescue teams to
save drowning boaters, lost hikers, and snowed-in skiers. The famine in
Lycea? We can find hungry people from the downtown of our nearest city
to the most remote place in the world.
The more we understand the spirit of Saint Nicholas - the real man
behind the myth - the more we can begin to pattern our lives after his
godly example. Why should our children's only glimpse of this saint be
that of a phony dime-store Santa with a fake beard, before whom they
must wait in line for the opportunity to rehearse their list of
Christmas "gimmees"? The real Saint Nicholas has so many
wonderful traits around which we all could be patterning our lives.