Nicholas of Myra

(fourth century)

by Kathryn Mitchell Lucchese in Folk Like Me: The Read-Aloud Book of Saints

Note from the author: I have included a silly St. Nicholas play and an Ogden Nash poem. Enjoy!

December 6

Hand with three coins
Artist: Cathy Rylander from
Folk Like Me
Used by permission

We know this saint as the patron saint of thieves, moneylenders and especially children—Sinter Klaas, as the Dutch call him—and we know that in Holland he arrives by boat, all dressed in his bishop robes, with his crosier and his mitre, and then goes riding a milk white horse through the town, while his servants give out gifts to the children. We also know that he was eventually buried in Bari, on the southeast coast of Italy, in a wonderful old church there. So we think we know "Santa Claus," but there are many more good old stories to tell about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the Thaumaturge (or "Wonderworker")—and even some history!

They say that Nicholas was born in the beautiful seaside town of Patara in Lycia (on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey), and that he was a very bright boy from birth, really a genius, who was very good at his Sunday School lessons and had wealthy parents who loved him. He was only eight when his parents died and he took to the road, traveling up the coast, visiting churches and just poking along, intending to be a holy man, or at least holy boy, somewhere. As the story goes, he just walked into this church in the town of Myra and all the people there, who were gathered down at the altar in the church praying hard for a new bishop, pointed to Nicholas as he came in the door and said, "You're the new bishop!" That's certainly one way to decide things like that . . . .

Saint Nicholas was at the Council of Nicaea (another interesting location in Turkey, now called Iznik, off in the west near the Sea of Marmara) back in the late 300s. This was where the Nicean Creed was first written up—the creed that starts: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen." They also say that he had the sacred tree of the goddess Diana cut down, and did all sorts of other important deeds. He even had adventures after he died: the people of Bari on the southeast coast of Italy came and stole his body away from Myra and popped it into their own church, where he has managed to stay to this day!

But our favorite stories are the ones about children: the three boys he saved from being turned into pies by an evil innkeeper, and the three girls he saved from slavery by putting little sacks of gold in their stockings. And we certainly know enough to put our own stockings up on Christmas Eve, or our shoes out on Saint Nicholas' Eve. And of course we know what Saint Nicholas did to Jabez Dawes in Ogden Nash's poem (or if not, fiind out by reading the poem, for saying there wasn't any Santa Claus . . . and it served him right!

From Folk Like Me: The Read-Aloud Book of Saints, by K. M. Lucchese, copyright © 2008 by Kathryn M. Lucchese. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing an imprint of Church Publishing Inc.

A collection of short saint stories told with humor and frankness—yet not frightening—to be read aloud in classrooms, chapel services, or homes. Weekly stories provided for two school years, along with maps and some other supplemental material. All ages.

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