The Real Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of just about everything. He is the national saint of Russia and Greece and churches named after him number in the thousands – more than 400 in Great Britain alone. He is the patron saint of judges, murderers, pawnbrokers, thieves, merchants, paupers, scholars, sailors, bakers, travelers, maidens and poor children. He is known as the friend and protector of all those in trouble.
Saint Nicholas was born in the Middle East about 350 miles northwest of Bethlehem in the fourth century. He grew up to become the bishop of Myra (now Kale), his hometown, Lycia, near the coast of what is now Turkey. Legends tell of his love for children, his kindness and the miracles he brought about.
Perhaps the most famous story of all tells how he helped three unfortunate young sisters who all had suitors but had no dowries because their father, a poor nobleman, could not raise the money. So they could not marry.
Now the bishop Nicholas was a shy man and did not like to give money directly , so he thought of a way to give it anonymously. When the first daughter was ready to marry, the good bishop tossed a bag of gold into the house at night. Later, when the second daughter prepared to marry, she too received a mysterious bag of gold. When the third daughter prepared to marry, the poor nobleman was determined to find out who had been so generous. So he kept watch and saw the bishop drop another bag of gold into the house. It has been said that Saint Nicholas climbed on the roof and dropped the third bag of gold down the chimney where it landed in a stocking hung to dry, giving us a reason to hang up Christmas stockings today. When the father saw what had happened, Nicholas begged him to keep the secret, but, of course, the news got out. From then on, whenever anyone received an unexpected gift, they thanked Nicholas.
Six hundred years later, the Russian Emperor Vladimir visited Constantinople and heard all the wonderful stories about Bishop Nicholas and decided to make him the patron saint of Russia. The stories even spread to the Laplands – to the people of the reindeer sleds.
The three bags of gold Nicholas gave the sisters made him the focus of merchants in northern Italy. Statutes and pictures had shown him holding the three bags and when taken as the patron saint of the merchants, the bags became gold balls, representing money lenders and today, pawnbrokers.
The anniversary of Nicholas’ death, December 6th, either 345 A.D. or 352 A.D., is so close to Christmas that, in many countries, the two merged. But in Germany and the Netherlands, the two remain separate.