Good St. Nick The man behind the legend

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a 4th-century bishop named Nicholas, who was known for his kindness and gift-giving. Born sometime around 280 AD in modern-day Turkey, Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents. When they died and left him an orphan, he used that wealth to bless the poor. Many stories are told of his generosity and miraculous intervention. One tale describes how St. Nicholas provided three virtuous young women with dowries that would allow them to marry well just in the nick of time (he supposedly threw sachets filled with gold – or golden balls – in through the window, where they landed inside the girls’ stockings). Another story claims that St. Nicholas dreamed of three boys who were murdered at an inn (their bodies were supposedly hidden in a pickling barrel), and when the bishop accused the innkeeper and prayed, the boys were restored to life. Thus, St. Nicholas became known as the patron saint of children, in addition to other groups. Today, the jolly, red-clad Santa Claus has largely overtaken Saint Nicholas in American culture, thanks to Clement Clark Moore, author of The Night Before Christmas and cartoonist Thomas Nast. However, in Europe, December 6 – St. Nicholas’ feast day – is still widely celebrated. ♦

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