Subject: St Nick
Author: Serra International
Date:   12/19/2016 1:30 am 
Centuries before he became "jolly old St. Nick," the real Saint Nicholas set an example for secret generosity and wonder-working in the ancient world.

Saint Nicholas was born in 270 A.D. in the ancient Greek village of Patara, in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents, devout Christians in the early, undivided Church, died in an epidemic, leaving their only son a large inheritance. Inspired by his abbot uncle, Nicholas too became a priest. After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the young priest was soon appointed Bishop of Myra.

Early in the fourth century the the empire-wide persecution of Christians under the reign of Diocletian sent Nicholas and thousands of other clergy to prison. Soon after his release when the first Christian emperor, Constantine, rose to power, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, which means he was among the bishops instrumental in developing the Nicene Creed we recite today at Mass.

St. Nicholas took seriously Jesus' exhortation: "If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me" (Matthew 19:21). That he came from wealthy parentage meant he could do this in remarkable fashion -- and that is how he came to be associated with anonymous gift-giving, thus leading to his evolution into the Santa Claus (from his name in the original Greek, Nikolaos).

The most famous story associated with this characteristic of St. Nicholas tells of a poor man who had no dowry for his three daughters. With no dowry, these maidens would never wed, and if they could not marry, they would likely become prostitutes (or be seen as such). Loath to call attention to himself for an act of charity, Bishop Nicholas went to their home under cover of darkness and dropped three bags of gold for their dowries through an open window. Legend has it that these bags fell into some shoes left out to dry; this evolved into the tradition of leaving secret gifts in stockings or shoes at Christmas time. Thus, he is often pictured holding three golden balls representing the three dowries.

Saint Nicholas iconography depicts him with three children in a barrel. This recalls the story of the bishop restoring to wholeness and life three children murdered by a butcher intending to sell them as ham. It's a gruesome story, but supports his role as the patron saint of children.

Aside from children, most prominent among claims to Saint Nicholas' patronage is as the protector of sailors and ships, but so popular was this generous saint that he is also called the patron of apothecaries, bakers, brides, merchants of any kind, scholars, prisoners, military intelligence, and even murderers and thieves. In fact, he is the patron saint of more causes and places than any other saint!

It is easy to see how Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, evolved into the rosy-cheeked Santa Claus, but the saint's story is much more inspiring and illustrative of the Christmas spirit to extend our generosity and goodwill to all.
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 St Nick    
Serra International 12/19/2016 1:30 am 
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