St. Nicholas was a real guy who lived in Patara (now Demre, Turkey) in the third century. His parents died from an epidemic when he was young, leaving behind a large inheritance. Young St. Nick, raised a devout Christian, knew Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew, “sell what you own and give the money to the poor”, and did just that. He was made Bishop of Myra while still young and became renowned for his generosity and love for children.
One of the most well-known stories of St. Nicholas tells of him throwing bags of gold through the window to three sisters of a poor family. In that time, prostitution was the only option for a woman who couldn’t afford to give a dowry and get married, so he saved them from a life of slavery by doing this. It’s said that the gold landed in stockings left by the fire to dry, and that’s how the stocking stuffing tradition started.
There are many more stories of him performing good deeds and miracles, like saving people from famine and calming storms for sailors, but it’s likely that a lot of folklore was mixed in with these stories because of his legendary status, so take what you hear with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, we do know that he was a very admired Christian leader and was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. He died on December 6, 343, which became known as the St. Nicholas holiday, and people began giving gifts in his honor then. Eventually, since it was close to Christmas, the two holidays were combined and people gave gifts on Christmas instead.
Interesting, right? “Saint Nicholas” became Sinterklaas in Holland, which was the only Protestant country to celebrate the holiday. Martin Luther renamed the holiday Christkindl in Germany, replacing the birth of Jesus as the focus of the celebration, but Christkindl was eventually just pronounced “Kriss Kringle” by Americans and became just another name for Santa Claus.
I hope this year you feel a little closer to the benevolent saint who’s leaving you gifts — or coal, I suppose, but I hope it’s the former. Merry Christmas!