Santa Claus: fact, or fiction?
The answer is, a little bit of both. The Santa Claus of American lore is based on the real-life Nicholas of Myra, a Greek Christian living in Asia Minor during the third and fourth centuries. (Myra is modern-day Demre, Turkey.) Little is known for sure about St. Nicholas, but tradition tells us that he was born the only child of a wealthy, pious couple in a town called Patara. His parents died in an epidemic when he was young, after which he went to live with his uncle in a monastery. There he continued to grow in his knowledge of and love for Christ, and after some time, he was elected Bishop of Myra. He is most known for his acts of generosity, including anonymous gift giving, which gave rise to all the various December gift-giving traditions that are carried out throughout the world today.
The Provision of the Three Dowries
The most famous story associated with St. Nicholas is the story of his saving three impoverished sisters from a life of prostitution. Their father could not afford dowries for them, which made them unmarriageable, and it had come to the point where he could no longer support them. Out of desperation, he decided that the only thing left to do was to have them prostitute themselves, so then at least they could earn enough money to keep themselves clothed and fed. But Nicholas would not stand for this. Having heard of the family’s misfortune, he stole away under shade of night to their home and tossed a bag of gold through the girls’ bedroom window—which landed in the eldest daughter’s stocking (or some versions say shoe). The next morning, the family discovered the gift and rejoiced, for now the eldest daughter was able to get married. Another night soon thereafter, Nicholas visited the house again and threw another bag of gold through the window, which enabled the middle daughter to likewise marry. Wanting to figure out the source of these mysterious gifts, the father stayed up all night, night after night, until Nicholas returned again with a third bag of gold. This time, the father caught him after the act and thanked him profusely. Nicholas told him to direct his thanks to God instead, for it is God who provides, and not to tell anyone who the gifts had come from. Continue reading