The Life of Saint Nicholas, written in the early ninth century by Michael the Archimandrite (814–842), approximately 500 years after Nicholas's likely death, is the first detailed narrative of Nicholas's life that has survived to the present. It was originally written in Greek.
Other significant writings on St. Nicholas include two collections of his miracles: one compiled in France in the 12th century and another in Hungary in the 14th century. The First Bulgarian Empire also had a collection of his miracles in the 13th century.
Saint Nicholas became popular during the 16th and 17th centuries with several local saints' days being celebrated in his honor across Europe. In 1672, Pope Clement X approved a formal canonization process for Saint Nicholas which led to his official recognition as a saint. Subsequently, several churches were built in his honor across Europe and the New World.
He is regarded as the father of Christmas music because of the three-note tune called "Ding Dong Dell" which he is said to have composed when he was six years old. This song was later adopted as the anthem for the town of Dunkirk in England.
There are several theories about how Saint Nicholas acquired his reputation as the "Santa Claus" of children. Some scholars believe he used to deliver gifts in secret through the chimneys of houses like a modern-day Santa Claus.
However, the oldest St. Nicholas traditions appear to correspond with historical and religious documentation from the time period. According to these early medieval documents, Nicholas was born into a Christian household about the year 260 A.D. He was raised by his father, who may have been a Greek merchant living in what is now Turkey. When Nicholas reached puberty, he joined this family business and began traveling around the Mediterranean selling gifts, which probably included clothing and foodstuffs since we know such items were traded throughout the region at that time.
When Nicholas returned home, he brought with him large sums of money which he used to donate to the poor and sick people of his town. This act of charity is said to have saved many lives because there were no hospitals at that time. In addition to helping others, Nicholas also reportedly healed diseases and performed other miracles during his travels across the continent.
In the years following his death in 343 A.D., several stories emerged about how Nicholas lived and traveled. Some say he became enchanted by a princess and spent the rest of his life with her in Romania while others claim he continued to travel until his death in Russia or Greece. No matter where he went or what else he did, it is believed that Saint Nicholas remained active in prayer and penance until his death.
Nicholas' presence is not documented in any historical source, therefore nothing is known about his life other than the fact that he was most likely bishop of Myra in the 4th century. According to legend, he was born in the ancient Lycian seaside city of Patara and journeyed to Palestine and Egypt as a child. He became wealthy by giving away gifts called "nichols" (a derivation of his name), which eventually led to his being called "Saint Nicholas".
After becoming rich, he returned to Turkey and built a large church on an island in the Sea of Marmara where he would later be buried. The story says that on Dec. 6, 343 he appeared to a young girl named Elena in a window of her home and gave her some gifts before going back home to God.
During his lifetime, Saint Nicholas' message of charity and forgiveness reached far beyond the borders of Turkey and brought joy to the children of Prague who were suffering during the fall of Communism. His image soon became popular across Europe and America and continues to appear today in many forms of entertainment including movies and books.
In Russia, Greece, and Hungary, Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 26; in Spain, France, and Italy, it is observed on January 6. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, however, Christmas is the official holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ but St. Nicholas is also remembered through festivals and parades.
Saint Nicholas was born around the year 280 in Patara, Lycia, which is now part of Turkey. He supposedly utilized his wealth to aid the destitute and sick after losing both of his parents as a young man. He was a pious Christian who eventually served as bishop of Myra, which is today known as Demre. Legend has it that he became a priest after being baptized by Saint Paul of Tarsus. Nicholas then went on to have three children with his wife Martina.
After Bishop Nicholas died at the age of 67, he was buried in Myra. But then almost 100 years later his body was moved to Bari, Italy where it remains today. During that time period his tomb was destroyed several times, but it was always rebuilt by local artists. In addition, there are many towns all over Europe that claim to be his final resting place.
It is because of this legend that Christmas trees came to be associated with Saint Nicholas. In late 16th-century Germany, people would hang balls of wool on the tree as a gift for Saint Nicholas. This became such a popular tradition that today when we say that someone has been "hung out to dry," they mean that they will likely get fired from their job.
In 1730, a Dutch bookseller named Clement Clarke Moore was living in New York City with his wife and two children. They were poor and had an ugly wooden house for sale.
During the Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians, St. Nicholas was deported from Myra and eventually imprisoned. Nobody knows for certain, but he died on December 6, 345 or 352. His skeleton was seized from Turkey by some Italian merchant seamen in 1087. They buried it inside their church, but this bone box was then destroyed during an Ottoman raid.
For many years after his death, people only knew about him from reports by his disciples. But in 1054, a Greek translation of the Bible was completed under the supervision of St. Nicholas' successor, Pope Victor III. This new version of the Bible included articles that had been written by St. Nicholas himself. It is because of this edition of the Bible that Christmas became associated with gifts and celebrations.
According to tradition, Pope Julius II commissioned a gold and jewel-studded reliquary to be made for the skull of St. Nicholas. The shrine still exists and can be seen in the Santa Claus Church in Bari, Italy. This is where his remains are kept today.
The story of Santa Claus came about in 1823 when Dutch artist Johan Van Gennep created a painting called "Saint Nicholas". In this painting, you can see elements of both St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. This led people to believe that both figures were one in the same.