We love to explore legends, because legends are stories of our history mixed with fantastic events and historical anecdotes, combined into one thread that we can tell repeatedly as entertainment on lonely nights. When you look into these legends, it’s easy to unravel some of the threads creating them, and find some of the historic truth in the origins of the story. Even some of the most famous legends are mashups of various histories and figures from the past. Our favorites, such as Santa Claus, the gift-giving figure come from a grain of truth, and combine with some real historical figures, such as the Greek figure, Saint Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas is a real historic figure, born during the 4th century; Nicholas is a Greek Bishop that served in Myra in the country of Lycia, which is now modern day Turkey. Due to the many miracles associated with his life, he is also sometimes called Nicholas the Wonderworker in historical stories and texts. When both of his parents died in an epidemic, Nicholas’s uncle also named Nicholas whom was a Bishop, raised him and continued his religious education, though historical anecdotes seem to indicate that Nicholas was always a deeply religious individual. In particular, he always observed both Wednesday and Friday fasts as part of his beliefs. Nicholas lived a very full life for the age, as his recorded death occurred at the natural age of 73, advanced for that time, especially given the number of miracles and good deeds attributed to the Saint.
In addition to the miracles that led to his veneration as a Saint, there are several regular good deeds simply part of Saint Nicholas’s life. One of the simpler good deeds was his supposed habit of putting coins in the shoes of those in need, especially when they were left out for him when he could give the gift without being seen. In fact, this wish to give gifts anonymously also led to one of the more famous stories about his act of giving. A poor father with three daughters had no method to pay dowry for his family, which would lead to his daughters forced into a life of prostitution when he died and could no provide for them. Supposedly, Saint Nicholas provided three bags of gold to the father, so he could afford dowry. In one variation of the story, the gifts happened over three nights, and on third night in order to avoid getting caught Nicholas dropped the bag into the chimney, where they fell into one girl’s drying stocking, perhaps lending a bit to the habit of stockings in front of the fireplace during Christmas.
Saint Nicholas is patron saint of many things, sailors, fishing, sailing, but he is most famous as a saint known for his gift-giving nature and his need to be anonymous when giving to those in most need. Despite this wish for anonymity, it became the part of his life he is now most famous for. Generosity, history, story, the three components that turn someone like Saint Nicholas from a generous figure, to the legendary one he is today.