St Nicholas should be an inspiration to us all. He was a godly man whose reputation for giving to people caused him to be a revered example of what compassion and giving are all about. He was not a jolly fat man who climbed down chimneys, and he didn't have flying reindeer.
Stories of his life - a life full of Christian beliefs and values - are the real background for today's mythical Santa Claus. Nicholas and his parents lived in Turkey in the third century and were Christians. Nicholas' parents had prayed and asked God for a child, much as Abraham and Sarah had done. From the time Nicholas was born, they considered him a gift from God. Although they both died when Nicholas was in his teens,diligently they taught their young son devotion to God and to be very generous to the poor.
Nicholas entered the priesthood at age 19. His uncle, the bishop who ordained him, prophesied that Nicholas would offer guidance and consolation to many people and that he would live a life of enlightenment. Eventually he did become the bishop of a small, coastal village, and his influence spread into many nations.
One particular story of Nicholas is the reason why many pictures show him with the three golden spheres.
These represent three bags of gold that he gave to a poor man so that his three daughters could be married. The man was poor and his daughters had no dowries. He was so desperate that he was planning to sell them into slavery. Nicholas threw a bag of gold pieces through the man's window in the night so no one would know who had done it. He wanted God to get the credit for it. Because of this, the eldest daughter had a dowry so was no longer an outcast and could be married. Not long after that, Nicholas did the same thing for the second daughter, saving her from a similar fate. When he did it for the third daughter, the father caught him. Nicholas made the father swear an oath that he would never reveal who was responsible for those gifts so long as Nicholas was alive.
In 1087, the remains of St Nicholas' grave were transported from Turkey to Bari, Italy, where a basilica was built in his honour. Soon after, his popularity spread throughout Italy and across western Europe. 6th December, the day of his death, became St Nicholas Day on the Roman Catholic calendar, and the custom of gift-giving on 6th December began in France and spread across all of Europe.
With the protestant Reformation of the 1500s, the worshiping of the saints was denounced, and St Nicholas Day was no longer observed in England. In Holland and Belgium, the traditional day of 6th December was still celebrated. There Sinter Klaas rode through the streets on a white horse, rewarding good children with treats and toys and giving rods or switches to bad children. In Germany, the saint was referred to as 'Nicholas dressed in fur" All of these traditions blended with immigration to the New World. As the English and Dutch intermarried, Father Christmas and Sinter Klaas blended into one figure. Dutch Americans eventually adopted 25th December as their day of celebration, and by the end of the Civil War, St Nicholas the bishop was generally known in the United States as Santa Claus.
The story of the true St Nicholas is what Christmas is really about. St Nicholas represents the giving heart of our Heavenly Father, Who always gives only good gifts.