St. Nicholas of Myra was born in the late third or fourth century in Lycia, in Asia Minor. As a young man, he is said to have made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt, studying at the school of the Desert Fathers. When he returned, he was ordained as Bishop of Myra, which is in modern day Turkey.
During the Diocletian persecution, Nicholas was imprisoned. After Constantine the Great came to power, and made Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion, he was released.
The most well-known story about St. Nicholas is about his generosity. One night, he is said to have given bags of gold to a poor man whose daughters were going to be sold into slavery. The money, which was used to pay the girls’ dowry, was thrown in through the window of the man’s home, and is said to have landed in the family’s shoes, which were drying near their fire.
This story is the basis for our modern-day tradition of St. Nicholas Day — children leave their shoes by the door, or hang their stockings by the fire, hoping to receive a gift from St. Nick on the eve of his feast day.
St. Nicholas is also associated with Christmas because he is traditionally said to have given gifts to children. He also wore red robes, and had a long white beard — all tokens that have been used in the legend of Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas died on Dec. 6, 346. He is the patron saint of children and sailors. Those who are shipwrecked, or who are facing tough economic struggles, or have been victims of fire, seek his intercession.