Saint Nicholas and His Stories
Santa Claus's story begins with Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas's birth place is the village of Patara and he was born in the 4th century. The area was controlled by the Greeks and now is the southern coast of Turkey. Saint Nicholas's parents were wealthy and raised him to be a devout Christian. Nicholas was young when his parents died. He sold what he owned and used all the money to help the needy, the sick and the suffering like Jesus said. Saint Nicholas spent his entire life serving God. He was a very young man when he was made Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas was Known for helping people in need and his love of children. He also looked after sailors and their ships.
Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted the Christians. Bishop Nicholas was sent to prison because he was a Christian. There were so many bishops, priests and deacons in the prisons that there was no place for the murderers, thieves, and robbers. When Nicholas was released from prison he went to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. On December 6, 343AD he died in Myra. They laid him to rest in his cathedral church where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. It was a liquid that was said to have healing powers. It promoted the growth of devotion. The day of his death is now called Saint Nicholas Day and great celebrations are held on this day around the world.
Centuries have passed and there are many legends and stories told about Saint Nicholas's life and good deeds. These stories help us understand his great character. They help us understand why he is so revered as a protector and helper of the needy.
There is a story about a poor father and his 3 daughters. During this time women had to have a dowry to give to their perspective h;husband. Without a dowry, a woman usually did not get married. She would usually be sold and become a slave. From out of now where 3 bags of gold showed up in their home. The bags of gold were thrown through an open window and landed in shoes or stockings so now the 3 daughters had dowries. This is how the custom of hanging stockings at Christmas started. Saint Nicholas was known as a gift giver.
One of the oldest stories about Saint Nicholas as a protector of children happened a long time after he had died. The people of Myra were celebrating on the eve ;of his feast day when a group of Arab pirates from Create came to Myra. The pirates took treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas. When the pirates were leaving they took a young boy. They were going to make him a slave. The boy was named Basilio and the emir was going to make him his personal cup bearer because he did not understand the language so he did not know what the emir said to the people around him. Basilio's waited on the emir. One of his duties was to bring him wine in a beautiful cup made of gold. The year went by slowly for Basilio's parents because they had lost their only child and they missed him.
When the next Saint Nicholas feast day came Basilio's mother did not go to the festival because she was too sad. She stayed home and said prayers for Basilios. Basilios was waiting on the emir and he was suddenly whisked away. Saint Nicholas appeared and blessed the terrified Basilios. Basilio's was taken back to his home in Myra. Basilio's parents were so happy to see him. He was still holding the emir's gold cup. This was the first story about Saint Nicholas protecting children.
Among the many stories about Saint Nicholas and his good deeds is one about 3 students that were ;on their way to Athens to study. The students stopped at an inn. The innkeeper was a terrible man and he murdered and robbed the 3 students. He took their bodies and put them in a pickling tub. Bishop Nicholas stopped at the inn to rest on his travels. That night he had a dream about the 3 students and what had happened to them. He woke from his dream and he called the innkeeper to come to him. Bishop Nicholas prayed to God asking him to bring the 3 students back to life.
When this story is told in France it is about 3 small children. They were running around playing and got lost. An evil butcher captured them. Supposedly Saint Nicholas appeared and prayed to God asking him to return the children to life and their parents. Saint Nicholas became known as the protector of children.
There are many stories about Saint Nicholas and the sea. This story is bout his pilgrimage to the Holy Land when he was young. He wanted to walk where Jesus walked so he could experience Jesus's life better. He was going home by sea when a terrible storm came that threatened to sink the ship. He remained calm and started praying. The frightened sailors did not know what to think when the wind died down and the waves became calm and they were all safe. Saint Nicholas became known as the protector of voyagers and sailors.
There are stories of Saint Nicholas saving people from famine, saving lives of people falsely accused and several others. Within a century after he died he was made a saint. Today in the East he is considered a miracle worker. In the West, he considered a patron of children, bankers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, poor people maidens, students, sailors, victims of mistaken prosecution, prisoners and much more. Saint Nicholas is considered a friend and protector of everyone in trouble or in need.
Sailors thought highly of Saint Nicholas so they carried stories of his great deeds far and wide. The people started building chapels in many seaports that were named for Saint Nicholas. He was so popular in the Middle Ages he became a patron saint of Italy, Greece, and France. He was also a patron saint of many cities in Austria, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
After Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized he brought the stories about Saint Nicholas and devotion to his homeland. Saint Nicholas soon became a beloved saint. Saint Nicholas was so well thought of thousands ;of churches were named after him. There are 300 in Belgium, 34 in Rome, 23 in the Netherlands and over 400 in England.
Many pilgrimages were made to Saint Nicholas's tomb in Myra. Many Christians became concerned that they would have trouble getting access to Saint Nicholas's tomb because of the wars and unrest in the area. The cities of Venice and Bari wanted to get Saint Nicholas's tomb in their city because of religious and commercial reasons.
Sailors from Bari were successful in getting Saint Nicholas's bones in the spring of 1087 and they brought them back to Bari. Bari was an important seaport on Italy's coast. They built a beautiful church over Saint Nicholas's crypt. Many faithful people com to honor Saint Nicholas. One of medieval Europe's great pilgrimages centers was Saint Nicholas was called “Saint in Bari.” Tourists and pilgrims still visit Bari's Basilica di San Nicola.
Saint Nicholas is still respected by Catholics, Orthodox and honored by Protestants. He is a model for a compassionate life.
Saint Nicholas feast day, December 6th is celebrated all over Europe. The feast day celebrations keep alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. Boys would dress up as bishops in Germany and Poland and they begged for alms for the poor. Saint Nicholas would come to Belgium and the Netherlands on a steamship That came from Spain Saint Nicholas would then ride a white horse and give out his gifts. The main day for giving gifts is December 6th in most of Europe.
In the Netherlands, they celebrate Saint Nicholas on the eve of Feast Day. People went around on the eve of December 5th and threw candies, chocolate initials, and small gifts through the open doors. Carrots and hay would be left by the Dutch children their shoes for Saint Nicholas's horse. The children hoped he would take the hay and carrots and leave them small gifts. It is believed that a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child was preserved by simple gift-giving in early Advent.