Saint Nicholas was born in Lycia, Asia Minor, about the middle of the third century, of devout and wealthy parents who provided him with a Christian upbringing and education. He was orphaned at an early age.
Later he was ordained a priest, and when the bishop of his district died, he was made Bishop of Myra of Lycia.
Saint Nicholas is distinguished for his great faith and especially for his charity.
His faith was so great, that with his prayer he calmed a stormy sea while on a trip to the Holy Lands. For this reason sailors pay homage to him as their protector.
He is particularly well known for his charity and his love for children. He used his great wealth to assist all who were in need: poor families, widows, and especially orphans and poor children. As Bishop, he established a poorhouse and a hospital.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters, who were all hoping to be married. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. He was the personification of Christian love and affection. As such he is honored by all the Christian world, both the Eastern and the Western.
In the West especially he is considered the great patron Saint of children and the cheerful giver of gifts under the name Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas died in 352. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; up to the present day an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.