– an excerpt from stnicholascenter.org
“The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara in Asia Minor… His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while he was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to ‘sell what you own and give the money to the poor,’ Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
“Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need… He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return.
“Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as a wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons—children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives… He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.
“Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands… Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including 300 in Belgium, 34 in Rome, 23 in the Netherlands and more than 400 in England.
“Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life… As a saint, Nicholas is a pattern for faithful living.”