Excerpt 2


Nicholas is dressed in the garb of a bishop, and usually be carries three gold balls in his hand, a reminder of the girls he saved from prostitution. He is also seen delivering the sign of the cross over three boys standing in a tub, representing his saving the children from the wicked inn keeper. There may also be an anchor recalling an incident when he saved a ship at sea from capsizing, thereby saving the crew.

Nicholas is the same saint we sing about in the Christmas tune, Jolly Old St. Nicholas. This was abbreviated to St. Claus which eventually became Santa Claus. Although he is considered to reside in legend, he was said to have been born into an aristocratic family in Asia Minor in the 3rd or 4th century. Everyone knew at his birth that he was destined for a life in the church because immediately after his birth, he stood up on his wobbly infant legs and gave praise to God.

4th century
probably legendary

Three Boys in a Tub
Three Gold Balls

He also refused to nurse on Fridays and on days of fasting. He eventually became the bishop of Myra. Inheriting his family’s wealth, he used this money to help the poor. In one case, he heard of an impoverished man who was so desperate that he felt it necessary to sell his three daughters into prostitution. One night, after everyone was asleep, Nicholas snuck over to the house of this poor man. Crouching below an open window, he threw three bags of gold, or three gold balls, through the window. When the father and his daughters awoke in the morning and saw the gold, they rejoiced that since the girls now had a dowry, they could marry instead of becoming prostitutes.

There is an additional story about how he saved three innocent children from a terrible fate. There was a wicked innkeeper who kidnapped small boys. He then killed them, butchered them, and preserved them in a vat of salt. Later he would serve them to his guests for dinner. While travelling through the area, St. Nicholas stayed at this inn. He knew immediately what the innkeeper was trying to serve him for dinner. Nicholas went directly down into the cellar and found the body parts of three little boys stored in a tub of brine. He reconstructed them and raised them back to life.

He is the patron saint of unwed women, sailors and travellers in general and, of course, little children. Since Nicholas sneaks into homes and leaves behind presents, we have the basis for the song Jolly Old St. Nicholas and the reason you tell him what you want for Christmas. Because his bones, stored in Bari, Italy are said to give off the scent of myrrh, he is the patron saint of those who make perfumes and of pharmacists. Since he gave money to those in need, Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers who have taken the three gold balls as their symbol. He is, finally, one of the major patron saints of Russia. (Feast Day December 6th)


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