SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA (?-346), bishop – Patron saint of paupers, children, brides, grooms, newlyweds, bakers, prisoners, sailors, and a list too long to mention
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Nicholas of Myra, undoubtedly one of the most popular saints honored in the Western world. In the United States and other parts of the world, his memory has survived in the unique personality of “Santa Claus” – the jolly, rotund, white-bearded gentleman who captivates children with promises of gifts on Christmas Eve.
Nicholas was born in Lycia in Asia Minor in the late third or early fourth century, and was ordained a priest and appointed as abbot of a monastery in the city of Myra in Lycia (on the coast of modern day Turkey).
As a young man, he is said to have made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt in order to study in the school of the Desert Fathers. On returning some years later, he was almost immediately ordained Bishop of Myra, which is now called Demre. He held this position until his death.
About the time of the persecutions under the Roman emperor, Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity, but was released when Emperor Constantine the Great came to power and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
There are many stories associated with Bishop Nicholas. During his voyage to the Holy Land, a fierce storm blew up threatening the ship on which he was sailing. After spending time in prayer, the storm abated and the seas became calm.
However, one of the most famous stories of the generosity of Bishop Nicholas speaks of the time when he threw bags of gold through an open window in the house of a poor man to serve as dowry for the man’s daughters who were of marriageable age, and who otherwise would have been sold into prostitution and slavery, as was the custom at the time.
The gold is said to have landed in the family’s shoes, which were drying near the fire. This is believed to be the beginning of the tradition of children leaving their shoes out by the door, or hanging their stockings by the fireplace, in the hopes of receiving a gift on the eve of his feast.
Saint Nicholas is associated with Christmas because of the tradition in which he gave secret gifts to children. In the English-speaking countries, he became “good ’ol Saint Nick”, or by a twist of the tongue “Santa Claus” – further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop. He died on December 6, 346.
Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints of both the Eastern and Western Churches. His remains are interred in the Basilica di San Nicola in the city and province of Bari in southern Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on December 6.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Nicholas)
“Father, hear our prayers for mercy, and, by the help of Saint Nicholas, keep us safe from all danger and guide us on the way of salvation.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”