by Reader Simon (Karl) Tsuji
During the Christmas season, parents face the quandary of what to do about Santa Claus, who seems to personify the secular celebration of the holiday season with its hustle and materialism. Rather, tell young children that the “jolly good St. Nicholas…” of the Victorian Christmas carol was indeed a real saint of the early Church who was the bishop of Myra in Lycia.
Son of wealthy parents, Nicholas took to heart Our Lord’s call in Matthew 19:21, for he gave his inheritance to the needy. In one of the most famous accounts Nicholas gave alms in secret [Mt. 6:1-4] by tossing sacks of gold coins through the window of a poor family’s house so that their three daughters would have suitable doweries and could be married. There are many other stories and legends about him but many are fanciful.
History does record that Nicholas, as a young bishop, was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian and was among those religious prisoners freed by Constantine I. However, few know that Nicholas participated in the Ecumenical Council held at Nicaea in 325. Fewer realize that a brawl broke out during the debates over the nature of Christ and that Nicholas threw the first punch. When arch-heretic Arius denied the divinity of Our Lord and that the Blessed Virgin Mary was indeed the Mother of God, an enraged Nicholas punched him in the nose! As the perpetrator, Nicholas was stripped of his Episcopal office and cast into prison. His position was restored only after several leaders of the Council dreamed of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary handing back to a repentant Nicholas his omiphoron (bishop’s stole) and his Gospel book.
Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker died about 350 and is commemorated on December 6th in both the Eastern and Western Rites. He is considered the patron of sailors, children, and pawnbrokers.