The story of Santa Claus comes from the historical person of Saint Nicholas of Myra, born sometime between A.D. 260 and 280, in the village of Patara, a Greek area, now the southern coast of Turkey. His parents, whose names were said to be Theophanes and Nonna were Christians of comfortable means with one hope that after many years of marriage had been left unanswered. Theophanes and Nonna were childless. But like Hannah in the Bible, Nonna prayed to God to bless her with a child and her prayers were answered.
Saint Nicholas was born into an era of great persecution against Christians. In an age when most children were raised to “fend for themselves or die,” and knowing the discrimination that might confront him, Saint Nicholas’ parents raised him as a good Christian. Following the example of his parents and the teaching of Jesus, he spent his time helping others and growing in faith.
This faith was tested when both Theophanes and Nonna died from a plague. Saint Nicholas asked God for guidance and was lead to give away his possessions and train for the priesthood. His uncle, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him a priest, and appointed him abbot of a monastery. Upon his uncle’s death, Saint Nicholas took the Archbishop position. Throughout his life he retained the kindness of his youth and his deep love of God by protecting and defending the innocent and poor. He died in 342. In 1807 the relics of Saint Nicholas were moved to Bari, Italy, where after many centuries, “the manna of Saint Nicholas” still flows from his bones and heals the sick.
The story that most links Saint Nicholas with Santa Claus is of a once wealthy man that had fallen on hard times and was not able to offer a dowry for his three daughters. At the time, a dowry was needed to attract a suitable marriage partner, without one the man’s daughters would remain unmarried with no money to care for themselves. Hearing that this man had no choice but to sell his daughters into a life of servitude to ensure their survival, Saint Nicholas went at night and dropped gold coins down their chimney or possibly through their window as is depicted in art. All three daughters were subsequently married with a suitable dowry. The man discovered the identity of this “gift-giver” after waiting up late one night catching Saint Nicholas as he dropped the third bag of gold for the man's youngest daughter.
Saint Nicholas is known around the world by different names, even looking different from place to place. This Christmas, with the grace of God, I hope to renew the tradition of the real Saint Nicholas, alert to the needs of others, giving in secret, expecting nothing in return.