This article (of the same name) is lifted directly from the Catholic World Report, not with permission but with love. Coming up to Christmas we celebrate the feast of St. Nicolas. Here is a great summary of his witness to Christ.
“There are hundreds of stories about St. Nicholas of Myra. He was born in Lycia on the southwest coast of modern Turkey. His wealthy, pious parents, Theophanes and Nonna, read to him the Holy Scriptures and faithfully taught him his prayers, but apparently died while he was still young. His uncle, Bishop Nicholas of Patara, ordained young Nicholas and made him his personal assistant. The zealous youth proved himself an inspiring catechist in the Christian community and an obedient servant to his uncle. During these dutiful years he showed great kind-heartedness and generosity by distributing his inheritance to the poor.
During this time, the three grown daughters of a formerly rich inhabitant were in danger of being sold into slavery because of their father’s pennilessness. Hearing of this, young Nicholas secretly visited the man’s house at night and threw gold in at the window to provide a dowry for one of the girls. The eldest daughter was soon married, and Nicholas again made clandestine donations for the other two daughters, with equally felicitous results. Modern children who awake to an orange or to gold-foiled chocolates in their stockings reenact this story because, by all accounts, one of Nicholas’ gifts landed in a sock that was hanging by the fire to dry.
The young Nicholas was blessed with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, a storm came up that terribly frightened the crew but, through the prayers of the saint, the waves of the sea were becalmed and the passengers saved. According to Palestinian Christians, Mar Nkoula (St. Nicholas) lived in a cave as a hermit for three years after visiting the holy places. In a vision Nicholas was told to return to Lycia. Years later an Orthodox Church was built over the hermit’s abandoned cave at Beit Jala, and Palestinians still commemorate this saint by giving gifts to children on December 19.
Not long after his return to Asia Minor, Nicholas was made archbishop of Myra. Difficult years followed for the archbishop and his flock, who were forced underground by the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s brutal, expansive persecution of Christians. During this time the good archbishop, who had the charism of bi-location, often appeared to imprisoned members of his flock as a model of gentleness, kindness, and love, until the day he too was discovered in hiding. In jail Nicholas continued to sustain and exhort his fellow believers to endure torture and death for the love of Christ. After Diocletian’s death, Nicholas was released and returned to his sacramental duties as a “confessor of the faith”—a titled given to Christians who were imprisoned and tortured for their faith during this period, but not executed. They were extremely revered and respected by their contemporaries.
Archbishop Nicholas attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), where he allegedly assailed the heretic Arius. In the middle of his hearing, Arius stood up on his seat in order to be better heard. Enraged by Arius’ denial that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, Archbishop Nicholas strode quickly over to Arius, pulled him down by his beard, and punched him in the face. The scandalized council fathers sprang upon Nicholas, stripped him of his pallium, and threw him in prison for his brutish behavior. That night Nicholas was visited by the Holy Family who loosed his bonds and vested him again in his apostolic garb. The bishops were astonished by this miracle and realized that Nicholas’ anger was righteous. He was honorably restored to his chair—where the aged prelate slept through much of the remaining proceedings.
During one of these naps, the holy confessor of orthodoxy bi-located again, this time to save more sailors at sea. When he awoke in Nicaea he was resentfully charged with sleeping through the entire council, whereupon the venerable Nicholas is said to have answered, “While you were talking, I was busy rescuing a disaster-driven ship at sea.” Some of the pious brethren took the ship to be an analogy of the Church. Others dismissed his words as the babblings of an old man. But not long after the council, the rescued sailors returned safely home and, traveling through Myra, recognized Nicholas as their deliverer. Not surprisingly, every Greek and Slavic Christian sailor for the past millennium and a half has sailed under the protection of St. Nicholas. In the midst of a storm, Greek sea captains still keep the ancient custom of promising St. Nicholas an effigy of their ship, called a tamata, if the holy wonderworker will save them from calamity.
Archbishop Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on December 6, 343. He was immediately recognized as a saint and as the patron of travelers. He is called upon by Christians round the world for deliverance from flood, poverty, or any misfortune. He has especially promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.
St. Nicholas’ incorrupt relics were venerated for centuries in the local cathedral church of Myra. Like those of many other saints, his bones exude sweet-smelling myrrh. This holy myrrh has been used by Christian faithful to heal all manner of infirmities. During the Middle Ages the Turks conquered Byzantine Asia Minor and hitherto pose a constant threat to Christianity in that region. Because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, his stories have spread to every Christian nation. In 1087, solicitous for the safety of St. Nicholas’ venerable remains, Italian sailors, who were devoted to this saint, plotted to steal the body and bring it back to their home village. St. Nicholas’ relics were thus taken from Myra and translated to the city of Bari, where the saint’s body continues to exude holy myrrh (in Italian, “sacra manna”) 17 centuries after his death.
A thousand years later, Italians are still hardcore devotees. It is difficult not to envy them sometimes. They’ve not only made St. Nicholas their “tooth fairy,” but once a year they commemorate the pirating of jolly ol’ San Nicola’s bones, sailing around the harbor at Bari with giant statues of the saint in their boats followed by a solemn harvesting of his tomb oils. Bari’s annual “Festival of the Translation of the Relics” is a three-day carnival with fireworks, processions, reenactments, fire-eaters, and Holy Mass, held every May 7-9. After High Mass on the 9th, the rector of the basilica crawls into a small opening in the crypt to drain the sacra manna out of St. Nicholas’ tomb into a glass vial. The manna is diluted with water and serves as an anointing sacramental and souvenir for pilgrims to Bari from across the globe.”
The truth of St. Nicolas points to the truth of Christ. Whatever you tell children, to me this story beats any other. But why let truth get in way of a good story.