Saint Nicholas: a brief introduction
St. Nicholas was born in the third century. Raised in a devout Christian family, Nicholas obeyed Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” using his whole inheritance to assist the needy and suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God, and was made Bishop of Myra.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned. After his release, he attended the Council of Nicaea. He died December 6 in AD 343, in Myra, and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death has become Saint Nicholas Day, when we celebrate his life.
Through the centuries, many stories have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. One tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days, a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands a dowry. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry; thus, the poor man’s daughters were destined to be sold into slavery.
But mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home, providing the needed dowries. Tossed through an open window, the bags are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry, which led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for Saint Nicholas.
By Chris Mackey, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, adapted from St. Nicholas Center.