The Real Saint Nick
The real Saint Nick was probably bearded, but he was not the jolly fat old man gracing Christmas cards. Saint Nicholas of Myra, also known as Nicholas of Bari (270 – 342 AD), was born in the Roman Empire at a time when Christianity was persecuted. Real life stakes were higher than depictions on coffee cups or the wording of season’s greetings. Hailing from a rich family, Nicholas’ wealthy parents died when he was a young man, leaving him with a considerable inheritance. Unlike what many other young men might have done in his shoes, Nicholas refrained from partying it up. Instead, he used his inheritance to care for those in need, such as helping a poor man with three daughters who could not afford a dowry.
St. Nick’s Generosity Grows
Without dowries, the girls’ father would have sold them into slavery – it was a pretty harsh world back then. However, on three occasions, a bag of gold appeared in the girls’ home. They were secretly tossed in through a window by Nicholas. The bag of gold would land in a shoe or stocking left by the fireplace. His reputation as a secret gift-giver grew over time, and Nicholas became known for depositing coins or treats in the shoes of children. Eventually, he became bishop of Myra at a young age, but his bishopric was interrupted when emperor Diocletian launched a round of Christian persecutions. Nicholas ended up exiled and imprisoned, until freed by Constantine. Stories about Nicholas’ generosity grew; he was canonized after his death, becoming the patron saint of children. This created the chief inspiration behind Santa Claus.