St. Nicholas

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Three Daughters: A St. Nicholas Story

retold by John Coakley, Feakes Professor of Church History, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey


This is really a retelling of a Nicholas story; a narrator reads and "actors" (if I can use the term broadly) essentially pantomime. This started at the seminary Christmas dinner about 15 years ago, with "Three Daughters," as a substitute for a Santa Claus visit; we passed out gifts at the end of the play. This caught on, and was done year after year, often with faculty playing the daughters (and a bit of a world-turned-upside-down feeling), and a lot of broad humor.

Stained glass detail
The poor maiden who has been given a golden ball from St. Nicholas for her dowry, wakes her sleeping father.
Print: detail of stained glass early 14th Century, Church of Königsfelden, Switzerland
St Nicholas Center Collection

Long ago a poor man and his three daughters lived in the town of Myra. The man had once been rich but now had almost nothing. In fact things got so bad that he decided to sell one of his three beautiful daughters so that he and the others could have enough money to live on. He knew this was wicked but it was all he could think to do.

Now Nicholas was the bishop of that town. He heard about what the man was going to do. It made him sad. He tried to think what he could do. He wanted to make it so the man didn't have to sell his daughter. He also wanted to get the man to see that it was wrong to do that. And Nicholas didn't want to call any attention to himself.

So Nicholas hit upon a plan, and here is what he did. On the night before the poor man was going to sell his daughter, the poor family went off to bed as usual, except of course much sadder. But Nicholas didn't go to bed. He waited in his house until the middle of the night, when everyone in the town was asleep and no one would see him. Then he made his way quietly to the poor family's house, and crept up to the window, keeping out of sight. When he was sure no one was nearby, he quickly stood up and tossed into the window enough money for the family to get by—— and hurried back to his own house before anyone there missed him.

Well——you can imagine the family's surprise and delight in the morning when they found the gift! The man was sure that it was straight from God. This thought made him feel happy that God was so good, but it also made him feel sad that he had ever considered doing such a bad thing to his daughter as to sell her. So he gave the money to her, to help her and her boyfriend get married, which they had been wanting to do. And he thought that perhaps she and her new husband could help by sending the family some money sometimes so they would have enough to live on.

Alas! The daughter and her new husband soon had a family of their own, and moved away, and couldn't help much. Before long, the family was just as poor as they had been before. And I'm very sorry to say that in spite of everything that had happened the poor man decided once again to sell one of his daughters.

Once again Nicholas heard the news. And once again Nicholas felt sorry for the family, and wanted to try to get the man to see how wicked his plan was. So on the night before the man was to sell his daughter, long after they had gone to bed, and everything was very still, Nicholas crept once again to the family's house, pitched his gift of money through the window and ran home without anyone noticing him.

Once again the family found the money in the morning with tears and joy. Once again the man felt sorry that he had ever thought of selling his daughter. And once again he gave the money to the daughter——thinking perhaps she and her new husband could give some help to him and his remaining daughter.

But you've probably guessed what happened. The second daughter too quickly had a family of her own, moved away, and couldn't contribute anything. And so the man found himself thinking of selling his one remaining daughter!

This time, however, on the night before the deed, the man didn't go to bed when his daughter did. He had a feeling that the money would come in through the window again, and this time he was going to find out how it happened. So he waited.

Sure enough, in the middle of the night, Nicholas came quietly, threw the money, and ran. But this time, the man ran after him. He chased him all through the streets of Myra, until they were both out of breath. He finally caught up with him. He looked at his face and saw that it was Nicholas, the bishop! He fell to his knees, and begged Nicholas to forgive him for ever having thought of the wicked thing he had almost done three times now. Nicholas was glad to see that he was truly sorry. But Nicholas also did not want any credit for what he had done. He told the man not to tell anyone (although I don't think the man kept the promise, or else I would never have heard the story to tell to you.)

I don't know what happened to the man and his last daughter, but I think he found a way to keep from having to make such terrible plans again. I think he may have even been so impressed by how generous Nicholas was as to try to be that way himself.


By John Coakley, Feakes Professor of Church History, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Reformed Church in America, New Brunswick, New Jersey Used by permission.

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