The real St. Nick didn’t wear a red velvet suit

By Renae Kranz

Have you ever wondered who the real St. Nick was? Many of us Catholics know there was a St. Nicholas, but his story might be fuzzy in our minds and his link to Santa Claus is probably even fuzzier.

The historical man who gave rise to the red-clad St. Nick of today was St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop of the ancient Greek city of Myra during the Roman Empire. What we know about him is from accounts written centuries after his death and from pure legend. We do know many miracles have been accomplished through his intercession over the years.

St. Nicholas was born around March 15, 270, in Patara in the Roman Empire to a wealthy Greek Christian family. His birth and death dates are not known for certain. According to tradition, he was ordained a priest by his uncle who was the bishop of Myra at the time. Later, Nicholas was made bishop after the man who succeeded his uncle died.

The only place his name is found early on in history (at least that still exists) is the list of attending bishops at the Council of Nicaea in 325. He was traditionally said to be an opponent of Arianism, a supporter of Trinitarianism, and a signer of the Nicene Creed that emerged from that council.

The most famous story about St. Nicholas is the story that morphed over hundreds of years into Jolly Old St. Nick. It is said he rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution because their father couldn’t pay the dowry for each of them.

Not wanting to make a public scene of his aid to them, he dropped a sack of gold coins into the window of their home three nights in a row, one for each daughter. On the third night, the father waited up to see who was leaving the sacks of coins. When he saw St. Nicholas, he thanked him profusely for his kindness.

St. Nicholas was also said to have saved three innocent men from execution at the hands of the governor Eustathius. This story has been embellished over the years, but appears to be true.

Perhaps the strangest story about him is the story of him resurrecting three children after an evil butcher killed them, put them in a barrel to cure and planned to sell them as ham. St. Nicholas saw the man’s lies and raised the children by making the sign of the cross over the barrel. This story is likely pure fiction but certainly interesting.

St. Nicholas died December 6, 342. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children, and many other groups.