Meridian Star

Columns

December 5, 2013

Saint Nicholas

MERIDIAN — “The roots of Santa Claus are not found in the snows of the North Pole,” writes Ace Collins in his book Men of Faith, “but were planted by third-century acts of charity in a region we now know as Turkey.”

    Ancient Christian writings indicate that Nicholas of Myra, born around 270 AD, was a man with a God-given call upon his life.

    As a teenager, Nicholas had great compassion for the needy people he encountered. Although his native city of Myra appeared to be an ideal place, a busy financial center with great sophistication, there was a dark side. Hidden in the shadows were brothels where young girls from poor families were sold into sexual slavery.

    Nicholas learned of one young girl who was in danger of being forced into prostitution. Previously, her father’s business failed, causing him to lose everything. Eventually, the family no longer had food and the children were suffering. The father then began to negotiate with local brothel owners to sell his oldest daughter, so that his younger children would not starve.

    The night before the girl was to be sold, Nicholas went to the family’s home after dark and tossed a bag of gold through an open window. Months later, Nicholas returned with another bag of gold, delivering it once again secretly. When the father discovered the identity of the donor, he asked Nicholas why he had not given the gifts openly. Nicholas answered, “Because it’s good to give and have only God know about it.”  

    After Nicholas’ wealthy parents died, he no longer had gold to give to the needy. His troubles increased when he entered the priesthood, during the rule of Roman emperors. During this time when Christians were experiencing great persecution, Nicholas was incarcerated because of his faith. Even in prison, he encouraged other prisoners in the faith.

    Later, after his release from prison, he began feeding the poor, establishing shelters for the homeless, and finding homes for orphans. When Nicholas became Bishop of Myra, the church coffers were filled with Roman coins. Although some church leaders used the money to provide themselves with lavish lifestyles, Nicholas gave money away.

    As he traveled through his district, he often dropped coins into the windows of the poor. When he walked about the city, he carried small toys and candy to give to children, and, as he did, he told them stories about Jesus.

     As a cardinal in the church, Nicholas of Myra, like Santa, would have been seen in flowing red robes, and early Christian art does reveal that late in his life Nicholas probably had a balding head and a white beard. When he walked the streets, he always had children clinging to his robes and following in his footsteps.

    “Saint Nicholas didn’t become Santa Clause by chance,” writes Ace Collins. “Those who first provided the holidays with a magical elf dressed in red did so as a tribute to the giving spirit of this extraordinary man.” 

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