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Saint Nicholas of Old and Santa Claus of Today

He is so much a part of our lives that many people forget that Santa Claus has not always been the jolly, red-cheeked icon that we know today. In fact, that image of “Father Christmas” is actually a relatively recent invention.

So where did Santa Claus come from? You may be surprised to know that the original St. Nicholas – or St. Nick as he is sometimes called – was a Christian bishop in ancient Greece, now a part of Turkey. The story of Nicholas emerged from his acts of Christ-like love and compassion.

Gifts of Love

An ancient merchant had three lovely daughters. But due to a tragic turn of events, he had lost all hope that his daughters would be able to marry and live a happy life. It was the third century, and this businessman had lost his fortune when pirates pillaged his ship. His beautiful daughters were of marrying age, and without money he could give them no dowry.

In those days, young women without a dowry had few options for survival. Many were forced into slavery or prostitution.

The father prayed around the clock that somehow God would grant a miracle for his family. A young Christian bishop – the historic Nicholas – discovered the plight of this man and his daughters. Nicholas was a wealthy man, having received a large inheritance at the death of his parents. One evening, in the middle of the night, Nicholas secretly slipped a sack of gold through a window into the merchant’s house. This timely gift saved the virtue of the man’s oldest daughter.

Later, another sack saved the second daughter.

Anticipating a third gift of gold, the father determined to discover who was helping his family. He stayed up all night and when the sack was dropped through the window, the father ran down the road and apprehended the mysterious benefactor. The merchant immediately recognized the young bishop and tried to give thanks to him.

The humble minister deflected the praise. “No, all thanks go to God, not to me.”

The father answered, “I need to let everybody know you did this.”

Nicholas responded, “No, you must promise me that not until I’m dead will you let anyone know how you received the gold.” This compassionate bishop believed literally Christ’s injunction that when we give, we should do so in secret, sacrificially in Christ’s name and not our own.


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