December 6th is the feast day of St. Nicholas.
Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus and he is much more than you imagined. There are many traditions surrounding Saint Nicholas but the one thing that we do know is that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.
Tradition holds that Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia a province of southern Asia Minor. He was raised by pious and virtuous parents. It is said that his parents died when he was still a young man leaving him a comfortable fortune. He resolved to use his wealth for works of charity.
One of my favorite traditions involving St. Nicholas is about the young saint assisting a fellow citizen of Patara. A man in his town lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. Unable to support his daughters he was going to give them over to prostitution. Upon hearing this St. Nicholas took a small bag of gold and, under the cover of night, threw it in the man’s house through an open window. Here was the dowry for the eldest daughter and she was soon married. He did the same for the second and third daughter, but on the last occasion the man kept watch by the window and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude. This is but one example of his generosity and love.
Tradition also holds that he happened to come to the city of Myra when the clergy and people were meeting to elect a new Bishop. God directed them to choose Nicholas. His election as Bishop placed him in great peril since this was also the time of Christian persecution under the emperor Diocletian. As the chief priest St. Nicholas was seized, tortured, placed in chains and thrown in prison. He was released from prison after the accession of Constantine as the Roman Emperor.
Another tradition holds that St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea to condemn Arianism. It is said that while at the counsel he became so indignant that he punched Arius in the face. St. Methodius asserts that because of the teaching of St. Nicholas the city of Myra was the only place untouched by the Arian heresy.
The traditions all agree that St. Nicholas died in Myra and was buried in his cathedral. In 1034 Myra was taken by the Saracens. Several Italian cities saw this as an opportunity to acquire the relics of this great saint. In 1087 merchants from Bari carried away the saint’s body from the lawful Greek custodians and their moslem masters. The city of Bari built a new church were the relics were enshrined. Pope Blessed Urban II was present for the enshrining.
Popular devotion to Saint Nicholas is found throughout the Church east and west but the greatest devotion appears to be in Russia. There is so much more to learn about the legend of Saint Nicholas I encourage you to read some of the sources used for this post:
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