It is believed that Nicholas was born in Patura, Lycia, Asia Minor, although the exact date is unknown. He was bishop of Myra, known for his great zeal and holiness. He was once imprisoned for his faith under the Emperor Diocletian, and it is said that he was present at the Council of Nicaea where he denounced Arianism.
The rest of what is known about St. Nicholas is mostly speculative. There is a story about three poverty-stricken young girls whose father was planning to give them up to prostitution since he could not afford dowries for them. Nicholas, hearing about this, and having been born into wealth, took three bags of gold and threw them into the girls’ house. Afterwards, all three girls were married and saved from lives of prostitution.
It is said that Nicholas destroyed pagan temples and devoted himself to converting sinners and helping the poor. He is the patron of storm-beset sailors because it is said that he miraculously saved some doomed mariners off the coast of Lycia. He is also patron of prisoners and children as well as the patron saint of Greece, Sicily, and Russia.
He was referred to as Klaus (short for Nicholas) by some, later to be known as Sint Klaus, and by the Dutch as Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas died in 350 A.D.
About the only thing that Saint Nicholas has in common with the secular Santa Claus is generosity. Whereas Jolly ol’ St. Nick brings material gifts to children once a year, the real Saint Nicholas gave of himself daily. His gifts brought food to the hungry, clothes to the poor and nourishment to the soul. He gave of himself to others. He was not only good and generous, but also pious and devout, and he centered his life on God.
The popular figure of Santa Claus, so prevalent at Christmas, is based less on the Christian saint than on the Germanic god, Thor. This god was associated with winter and the Yule log and rode in a chariot drawn by goats named Cracker and Gnasher.
Dear St. Nicholas, in this most holy time of year when we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, help us to focus our minds on Him rather than on self-centered, worldly celebrations. Pray for us that we will take time to reflect on His Incarnation. And dear St. Nicholas, may we have a generous spirit like yours and a constant and abundant love for others. Amen