The Gentler Side of St. Nick

Dec 5, 2013

Reposting in honor of tommorow's feast of St. Nicholas!

Santa Claus stands as a centerpiece of the Christmas season and though the feast of Saint Nicholas lasts but one day (December 6th), the Santa frenzy will continue through the holidays.  Children around the world will find it hard to sleep, anxiously waiting for him to swoop down the chimney, leaving presents under the tree.  But, where did the idea of gifts from jolly ole Saint Nick come from?  The tradition stems from an event that vividly displays the “gentler side” of Saint Nicholas.

Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, lived during the tumultuous fourth century, when both false teaching and the Roman Emperor continually assaulted the Church. Fascinating stories swirl around the life of Saint Nicholas, and while we face some difficulty in distinguishing the tall tales from the true tales, they all combine to create the portrait of an inspiring man. Orphaned when he was young, Nicholas’s wealthy parents left him a small fortune. As Nicholas grew older, he developed into a man after God’s own heart, passionate and compassionate, zealous for truth and mercy. His passion and zeal for truth compelled him to slap Arius the heretic across the face at the Council of Nicaea (“You’d better watch out…Santa Claus is coming to town”), but his compassion and mercy are the foundation for the more well-known tales of his life. These stories gave rise to Nicholas’s “alter-ego,” Santa Claus.

When not assaulting heretics, Nicholas ministered as a bishop with a true pastor’s heart. One night, while walking through the village where he lived, Nicholas heard a girl crying. He stopped to listen and overheard the girl lamenting the fact that her family was too poor to provide dowries for her and her two sisters. In those days, dowries were given from a father to the suitor of his daughter and young ladies had little prospect of marriage without one. Unable to bear the girl’s sadness, Nicholas filled a bag with gold coins and tossed it into the poor family’s house, providing enough for the girl’s dowry. The following two nights, he did the same for the two younger sisters. All three girls were married the following spring, thanks to the mercy and generosity of Bishop Nicholas. The family never knew who provided the money.

Details of the story vary. Some say the bags of coins were thrown down the chimney, giving rise to the idea that Santa Claus comes down the chimney to leave presents. Others suggest that the coins landed in shoes or stockings left by the fireplace to dry, inspiring the practice of putting out stockings or shoes for Santa to fill with gifts. But all agree that Saint Nick’s stealthy delivery skills continue to thwart those trying to catch him in the act. May the warm and generous spirit of Saint Nicholas inspire the same in us all.  Merry Christmas!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Brian  Phillips

Brian Phillips

Dr. Brian Phillips is the Director of CiRCE Consulting & the Headmaster of the CiRCE Academy.  He also serves as a pastor in Concord, NC, where he lives with his wife and their four children.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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In the Netherlands we do not have Sante, but we celebrate Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a very big deal for the kids, comparable to your Santa. It starts halfway through November with Sinterklaas travelling from Spain to the Netherlands. We have daily news broadcasts following his trip and he is officially received into the Netherlands live on national television:
After that he visits every school, sports club, hospital etc in the country. The kids receive gifts on the evening of December 5th. And afterwards....thankfully.....we can concentrate on Christmas, without the commerce :-)

Nice article. not a story i had heard before, but there seems to be a major editing problem in the 3rd paragraph. fix the problem, and I'd love to share it!

Thanks for this. St. Nicolas is the most popular saint in the world, with more churches worldwide named for him than for any other person. He is also the patron saint of several countries.

In the legend of St. Nicolas his gifts were always given anonymously (and to the poor). So later when folks gave gifts to the needy (anonymously) the story was that St. Nicolas had left them.

Somehow this beautiful tradition morphed into a magical elf who lives at the North Pole.

Fixed! That was weird!