Nicholas was born in the third century in the village of Patara, which is on the southern coast of Turkey. He was raised as a devout Christian and when he grew into manhood, he dedicated himself to serving God. Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra at a young age.
Nicholas was one of the many Christians who were imprisoned because of their faith by the Roman emperor Diocletian. He died on December 6 AD 343 in Myra. After his death, manna, a liquid substance, began to form in his grave. This substance is said to have healing properties. The anniversary of his death is observed as St. Nicholas Day.
Throughout his lifetime, Nicholas did many kind and generous deeds. He is credited with saving people from famine and working to free those who were falsely accused of crimes. He also induced thieves to return their ill-gotten gains, and is credited with using prayer to calm a sudden storm that blew up during a visit to the Holy Land. Nicholas is known as the protector of all those who are in need. He is the patron saint of children, thieves, and sailors, among others.
Over the years, many stories have been passed down about St. Nicholas. Here is an example:
A poor man had three daughters. He was unable to provide dowries for them. Without a dowry (a valuable item given to a prospective husband), it was very unlikely that they would ever marry. More than likely, they would be sold into slavery. The future looked grim.
Then something very mysterious happened. On three different occasions, a bag of gold was thrown through an open window to provide the young ladies with the funds for their dowries. According to legend, the bags landed in shoes or stockings that had been left next to the fire to dry.
This story turned into the basis for the Christmas custom of children hanging up stockings to be filled by St. Nicholas, the gift-giver.