St. Nicholas was born in the third century in Turkey, in a village then known as Patara, Lycia to a wealthy family. Nicholas 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.
It is said that Nicholas once learned of a poor man who had three daughters. Because their father could not afford a dowry for them, the daughters had no hope of marriage and would be sold into slavery. This would sentence them to a certain life of prostitution. On three separate evenings, Bishop Nicholas threw a bag of gold through an upstairs window providing a dowry for each of the daughters, thus saving them from being sold. As the story goes, the bags of gold landed in stockings hanging by the fire to dry and in shoes placed on the hearth.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated each year on the anniversary of his death -
Dec 6, 343. Dressed in his red bishop’s robes, he is said to bring gifts to children just as he did in many of the stories told about him through the ages. And, in memory of the three daughters he saved from being sold into slavery, he comes early while the children are still sleeping and leaves presents. Before children go to sleep they place a bowl or plate under their bed, hang a stocking by the fireplace or put a pair of shoes in front of the door (varies by country). In Europe, this early advent gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day helps to preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.
In Germany, Martin Luther replaced the name of the gift bringer with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Through the years, this was eventually mispronounced enough that it became Kriss Kringle, another name by which we know St. Nicholas. But, brought to the United States by immigrants, the English speaking children often mispronounced the Dutch version of his name, Sinterklaas, and he eventually became known to us here in the U.S. as Santa Claus.
Now, in order to convince folks that Coke was not just a summer drink, the Coca-Cola Company began featuring Santa on their bottles to depict the idea that the beverage could be consumed at any time of the year. Until that time, Santa had traditionally worn Nicholas' red bishop’s robe, as we see on early Santa figures; he changed from Bishop’s attire to a red suit with trousers in the United States when he began appearing on the Coke bottles.
Today, St. Nicholas continues to evolve each year as songs, television specials, and movies spin new and ever changing details about Santa, reindeer, and the North Pole. Changing at a pace never before seen, it is my belief that our children’s children will know a completely different St. Nick than we do today as he is already hardly recognizable as the Bishop of Myra.