Saint Nicholas

Who was Saint Nicholas?

Millions of people around the world are familiar with Santa Claus, or at least their culture's version of the Christmas figure, but far fewer are familiar with the Saint upon which the legend is founded, Nicholas of Myra, a devout follower of Jesus Christ who lived in the 3rd century. People may even speak of "Saint Nick" or without realizing the historical reference they are making. So who was Saint Nicholas?

Although some details of Nicholas' life are fragmentary, some facts about it may be established. Nicholas was born on March 15, 270 A.D. in the city of Patara, which was located in modern-day Turkey, upon the Mediterranean Sea. Patara in this day was infused with Greek culture.

Nicholas was an only child, born to devout Christian parents. When his parents died from disease, Nicholas was given to his uncle, who was the bishop of Patara. This uncle influenced him to devote his life to serving others in the name of Christ.

Saint Nicholas' Christian Service

Nicholas was a participant in a very important moment in Christian history. As a clergyman, he participated in the famous Council of Nicea. [1] Nicholas was opposed to Arius’ theological contentions, which was that Jesus Christ was created and not divine. Nicholas was a signer of one of the most famous statements in the 2,000-year history of the Church, which is called the Nicene Creed. The belief statement reads,

We believe in one God,  the Father, the Almighty,  maker of heaven and earth,  of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,  the only Son of God,  eternally begotten of the Father,  God from God, Light from Light,  true God from true God,  begotten, not made,  of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation  he came down from heaven:  by the power of the Holy Spirit  he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,  and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again  in accordance with the Scriptures;  he ascended into heaven  and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,  and his kingdom will have no end. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,  who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.  He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead,  and the life of the world to come. Amen. 

The Legend of Saint Nicholas

There were a significant amount of stories and legends that grew up around the person of Saint Nicholas in the centuries following his death, which have evolved differently in cultures around the world, but today are mostly associated with the Christmas holiday.

It's established that Nicholas enjoyed giving anonymous gifts to people, including money, perhaps a tradition that was a forerunner to the modern practice of gift-giving at Christmas. It was also known that Nicholas like to give gifts to children. [2] Some stories say that Nicholas would hide coins inside the clothing of children, such as in their shoes or socks, which the forerunner to the modern practice of hiding gifts in stockings.

Nicholas Today

Today, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of many groups, including sailors, thieves, and children. Virtually every Christian denomination honors Saint Nicholas in some way, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and several Protestant churches, for example, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. (For more information, see this comparison chart on Christian denominations.)

The Relics of Saint Nicholas

In the last two millenniums, the bones of Saint Nicholas have moved from modern-day Turkey to Europe in attempt to keep them safe from invaders and thieves. In December 2009, the Turkish government asked that the relics of Saint Nicholas be returned from their resting place in Italy. To date the relics haven’t been transferred.

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1. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787) Their History and Theology. Liturgical Press, 1990, page 58

2. The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas. Howard Books. pp. 14–17