The Story of Santa Claus
by The Whitefriars Press, London and Tonbridge
You all know, of course, that another name for Father Christmas is Santa Claus, but do you know why he is called by that name? This little story will tell you all about it.
It all began hundreds of years ago, in a little village far from here, in a place that we call Asia Minor, not far from the land where Jesus lived. There a little boy was born one day and given the name of Nicolas. He lost his father and mother when he was quite young, and inherited a great fortune; so he was very rich.
Nicolas grew up almost as good as he was rich, and certainly as kind. Many a person in the ancient city of Myra learned to love him for his generosity. He had such a nice way of doing things, too, for he used to help people so secretly that it was a long time before they discovered who the giver was. 'I want to help the poor and needy,' he told his friends, 'but I don't want to hurt their feelings.'
Now the friends of Nicolas used to tell him whenever there were any poor or unhappy people in the town, and one day they brought him a sad story.
'There is a man in the town with three daughters, and he is so poor that they cannot get married and he has not enough money to keep them,' they said.
In those days a woman could not be married unless she had a sum of money to bring to her husband—called a dowry. There was no work for unmarried women to do, and a woman with no husband to take care of her, and no money to live on, was in a bad way, for they did not dare to beg in the street.
When Nicolas heard the story of the three poor women his heart was touched, and he began to think about what he could do. At last he had an idea! When it was dark he wrapped himself up in a cloak and, stealing out of his house very quietly, made his way into the poorest part of the town, where the poor man and his three daughters lived. He found the house, and seeing the window open, he put his hand through and softly laid a ball of gold on the sill. Then swiftly and silently he went home.
What a surprise the man had the next morning when he saw the gold!
'My eldest daughter shall be married he cried, and clapped his hands for joy. And married she was that very day 1 The man tried to find out who had helped him, but no one could tell him who it was.
Not many days later, Nicolas went again by night to the poor man's house. He had to be more careful than ever this time, for the man might be watching. Very, very softly, he crept close to the house and laid a second ball of gold on the window sill. Again the man awoke in the morning, and again he shouted for joy.
'My second daughter shall be married!' he cried. And married she was that very day.
After this the man was determined to find out who his helper was. 'I am sure he will come again with a gift for my youngest daughter,' the man said, and he lay down night after night, hardly sleeping, he was so anxious to find out.
Some days later Nicolas made his way once more through the city by night, and approaching the house, he listened. All was still. Quietly he put his hand through the window and laid down the third ball of gold on, the sill. Suddenly there was a flash of light and the sound of footsteps, and the grateful man fell at his feet full, of joy and gratitude. So the third daughter was married with great rejoicing; and now all the city knew of Nicolas's kind deed.
That was only one of the kindnesses Nicolas did, and everybody learned to love him. Children smiled at him as he rode about on his white horse. Soon, other stories of the kindness of Nicolas became known. Everyone had heard how he saved the lives of three prisoners who were shut up in a gloomy tower, and also how he had healed a little burned child by his prayers.
When he grew old Nicolas had a long white beard. When he died, the people of his country, and of other countries, remembered his goodness and called him 'Saint Nicolas.' But I think it must have been the children who shortened his name to Saint Claus, or, as we now say, Santa Claus.
They never forgot him, and every year, in December, when the day of his death came round, they wondered if he would come back, bringing presents in the night. In Holland and Belgium the children still put out their shoes on that night, with hay or a carrot in them for Santa Claus's white horse.
Christmas time—the birthday of the Lord Jesus—is, of course, the best time of all for remembering good, kind deeds, so we, too, remember Santa Claus and hang up our stockings, wondering if he will come in the night!
Whether we call him Father Christmas or Santa Claus, does not matter. The glad thing is that he still comes at Christmas time to make it a season of great joy to us all.
"The Story of Santa Claus", by The Whitefriars Press Ltd., London and Tonbridge, printed for The Religious Education Press Ltd.,k Wallington, Surrey, undated from the 1940s or 1950s.