Today is the day the Church remembers Nicholas, who grew up to be a Bishop in a small town, long ago, and far away. His life was so exemplary that he is remembered today not only by the Church but by the secular, commercial world as Santa Claus. Yes, there really was a Santa Claus,his name is Nicholas, and he was the Bishop of Myra as the world turned from persecution and death to open faith in Christ.
Saint Nicholas was born in 260 AD into a wealthy family living in Patera, a coastal town in what is now Turkey. He became Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, and there are many stories of his love for God and for his neighbor.
Through his priesthood in the early Christian faith, he came to be recognized for his generosity to all those in trouble. In his good-doing role as priest, one story tells of Nicholas, who took pity on a girl in his parish whose family had no dowry. Had Nicholas not intervened, this would have prevented her from marrying. He made a parcel of money from his family's coffers and donated it anonymously to the young woman and her future by throwing it in through the open window (or, when the story came to be told in colder climates, down the chimney), where it is said to have landed in her stocking. This is why we put gifts and especially "gold" coins in stockings. That is why I put "gold" chocolate coins in my kids stockings, to remember.
Bishop Nicholas did this type of anonymous giving more than once, and he became known for late night gifts, and the granting of wishes. That is why, if we give a gift to someone today without saying whom it is from, it can be called "a present from Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus)", because while we may or may not know the recipient, God does and loves them!
He was also fearless in defending the innocent. Once when some men were falsely accused and about to be put to death by a corrupt Roman Judge, he stepped in and grabbed the sword of the executioner! That is a strong man of God, not some silly, jolly elf!
During the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his beliefs but he never forsook his faith. The new Emperor Constantine eventually released him. Tradition has it that Bishop Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 with many other bishops, a meeting that produced what we today call "The Nicene Creed". The beloved bishop died in 343AD and his body buried in the cathedral at Myra.
The name St Nicholas lives in the hearts of people all over the world, young and old alike. He may be known as Santa Claus and Father Christmas today, but he was a real man, whose faith and actions point us to the Christ born in this world for all of us.
Taken from a biography by James Kiefer
† Almighty God, Who in Your love gave to Your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that Your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.