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
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 else.
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 the city.
"Why did you give
us the gold?" the father asked.
"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 about
" 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
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 for
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 giving is.
In the figure
of Santa Claus, whose name and activity Nicholas
inspired, we have this saint with us today.
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by Pat Ann