Saint Nicholas was born in the third century AD and lived during the reign of Emperor Constantine of Rome, or Saint Constantine the Great as he is known in the church. When Nicholas was a young man he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem intending to live a solitary life of prayer, however he returned to Myra (a town in what is now the nation of Turkey), where he was ordained bishop. Through his charitable work for those in need, for the Church, and for the Gospel of Christ, Saint Nicholas became well-known and beloved among the faithful of that time. He attended the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD in Nicaea, where he rebuked Arius for blasphemy, and where the Nicene Creed was adopted, which begins “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”
The legend of Santa Claus evolved from Saint Nicholas’s practice of giving anonymous gifts to people, sometimes dropping gold coins in the shoes left out for him, and on a few occasions tossing bags of gold coins into the open windows of houses when families needed financial help. One story tells of him dropping a bag of gold down the chimney of a home in order to evade the praise of the home’s owner, so that their gratitude for the good deed would go to God instead.
The Eastern Orthodox Church honors Saint Nicholas as the patron of travelers, repentant thieves, and those who’ve been falsely accused, among others. His feast day is celebrated every year on December 6th.