Long ago there was a poor widower man with three teenage daughters. This man hardly had enough money for food and clothing for his daughters and no money for their dowries. Back then a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. This was a very important issue in these times. For a good dowry would assure that the daughter would find a husband, but without one they would likely not marry and would be sold into slavery.
One Christmas Eve the oldest daughter hung her stockings to dry by the fireplace and the next morning she found a lump of gold in one. Miraculously she now had a dowry and could marry! The father had awaked in the night and chased down the man who had left the gold to thank him. He bowed and tried to kiss the man’s feet, but the man raised the father to his feet and told him that God alone should be thanked for the gift.
Two years later, gold was again found in the second daughter’s stockings. Mysteriously, for all three daughters on different occasions, the gold appeared in their home – providing the needed dowries. Word spread of this generous act and it led to the town custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts. So who was the generous man that had saved the three daughters from slavery? Yes, you guessed it, his name was Nicholas.
Nicholas was born a Greek in Turkey in 325. He was the only son of wealthy parents who died in an epidemic while Nicholas was very young. He was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop in the church. His uncle mentored the young Nicholas as a reader, and eventually he became a Bishop like his uncle.
There were so many similar stories of the generosity of Bishop Nicholas that his legend grew over time. In 1823, Dr. Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal clergyman, wrote a poem called, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to read to his children on Christmas Eve. You all know how it goes, “’Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…”
The poem was later published and defined the image of Santa Claus we have today. He gave Santa reindeer to pull his sleigh and a bundle of toys for filling Christmas stockings. Down through the centuries, many countries have loved and anticipated the arrival of St. Nicholas each December. They call him by many names—Sinter Claus, Pere Noel, Father Christmas, and, of course, Santa Claus. In some countries he is correctly portrayed wearing bishop’s robes.
So, was jolly old St. Nick real? Yes. Many stories and legends have grown up around the actual man. He is remembered today for giving to those who are in need. And as the real Nicholas reminded the man with three daughters—we should thank God for the gifts we receive—not just at Christmas, but all year long. Have a blessed Christmas.