This week we share stories of December saints, as we continue our Advent retreat.
His very first name goes back hundreds of years. The earliest stories we know were told about St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra. Hundreds of years ago, he lived in a seaside town named Myra, in present-day Turkey. Ever since he was a small child, Nicholas loved God; he studied hard, prayed often, and followed Jesus by helping the poor. The people of Myra loved Nicholas so much that when their old bishop died, they immediately elected Nicholas to replace him. He served them well for a long time and was much loved.
Here’s a story about Nicholas that has been passed down through many generations. In Myra lived a very poor man whose wife had died; his three grown daughters lived with him. In those days, when a young woman got married, she had to bring money or property—a dowry—with her into the marriage. This man was so poor that he had no money for his daughters’ dowries; neither did he have money to support them. He had, he believed, only one choice: to sell his daughters into slavery. Nicholas heard about this terrible situation. Late one night, he crept to the man’s home and threw something through the window. It was a bag of gold—enough to pay the dowry for his oldest daughter. The man and his daughter were overjoyed. She married, but her father still had two daughters without dowries. Sadly, he prepared to send them away.
Nicholas returned one night and again threw a bag of gold through the window. The father rejoiced, but he wondered who was helping him and why. Nicholas didn’t want the man to know. He thought it was best to help others anonymously so that the motive is their good and not the giver’s sense of pride.
But the father was determined. He had one daughter left and no money for a dowry. He certainly hoped he would be helped again, especially because he wanted to find out who was doing it. So he locked the windows and watched out the door. Nicholas still wanted to help, but he didn’t want to be seen. So, in the back of the house, far from the father’s sight, he dropped the bag of gold for the third daughter right down the chimney.
There are other Nicholas stories. It’s said that God worked through Nicholas’s prayers to raise children from the dead—some who had been killed in a fire and another child who had drowned. If people were in need and he was able to help, St. Nicholas gave them hope and strength. These stories spread from his home in Turkey up to Russia, where he is still a very popular saint. Through the centuries, people passed on stories of him across the most northern parts of Europe, then to Germany, France, and England, and finally to the United States. The children in every country gave St. Nicholas a name in their own language.
Why do you think these stories of St. Nicholas have been so popular in so many cultures? What qualities and values are we celebrating?