December sees not only Advent and the beginning of Christmas, but (appropriately enough) the Feast of Saint Nikolaos of Myra — aka Saint Nicholas!
Born some 280 years after Jesus in Patara in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Nikolaos lived under the shadow of the Roman Empire during its time of transition from persecuting the faithful to nascent Christendom.
Orphaned at a young age by wealthy parents, Nikolaos received a substantial inheritance and was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara.
Eventually, Nikolaos became a bishop himself, serving in the ancient Greek city known as Myra, also located in modern-day Turkey. Ministering to the early Christian community here, he took to wearing red clerical robes.
He is said to have encouraged a culture of generosity among the people he served, saying “The Giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith and not of ourselves.”
Many tales surround Nikolaos’ own legendary generosity, none more poignant than that of three young sisters and their impoverished father. In the sisters’ time and culture, they were likely destined to a life of forced prostitution, with their father unable to pay proper dowries to potential suitors.
When Nikolaos learned of this, he intervened by providing an abundance of gold to each of the girls as they came of marrying age, coming under the cover of night so as not to bring shame upon the family.
Their benefactor was a mystery to them, though the second girl, hoping similar gifts would be coming her way, allegedly set her stockings out the night before her birthday, which were in turn filled with gold.
When the final sister came of marrying age, their father stayed up all night to see who this elusive gift-giver was. Nikolaos, crafty in his generosity, tossed his final bountiful gift through the chimney so as to avoid detection.
Various miracles were also attributed to Nikolaos (and his relics, or remains) in the following centuries; he was eventually recognized as a saint, and considered a patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, thieves, and pawnbrokers!
To honor him and his legacy, people around Europe in the Middle Ages exchanged gifts on the day of his death, December 6.
In time, stories of his generosity and miracles traveled the globe. Saint Nikolaos became known to many as “Saint ‘Klaus,”…aka Santa Claus.
And now you know…the rest of the story.
How do we maintain a finely-tuned conscience, honor rooted in dignity, and bold, clever generosity in these trying times?
May the spirit of Christ and Nikolaos remain with you this season as you discover your own answers to this question, inspiring you to fresh expressions of radical given-ness!
The Legend of St. Nicholas (for children of all ages)
Saint Nicholas of Myra: The Life and Legacy of the Ancient Christian Bishop Who Became the Inspiration for Santa Claus (an audio program)
The Strange Tale of St. Nicholas and the Three Pickled Lads — on my Instagram! (Let’s follow each other if we don’t already.)
The Saint Nicholas Center: Discovering the Truth about Santa Claus
Thank you, Mike. All the best of the Lord’s good gifts to you and your loved ones.