The history behind Christmas traditions is often very surprising. It is a unique combination of the spiritual, supernatural and the strange. This unique intersection is most prevalent with the star of the season, Santa Claus.
Santa (as his friends know him) was inspired by a fourth-century Greek bishop named Saint Nicholas. Numerous stories have him performing miracles – which often include some element of gift giving.
In one story, a ship loaded with wheat was anchored in a port during a great famine. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload part of the wheat to help feed the starving people. The sailors were uncertain at first. The wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor in Constantinople. The sailors agreed when Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their kindness. The sailors made a remarkable find when they arrived in the capital. The weight of the load had not changed at all despite the amount of wheat they had shared.
The most fascinating story related to current-day Santa, involves Saint Nicholas coming to the aid of a poor man who could not afford the dowry for his three daughters. Without funds, the daughters were destined to remain unmarried and would likely need to turn to a life of prostitution. Upon hearing of their plight, Nicholas decided to help the first daughter when she came of age. To avoid embarrassing the family with a public display, Nicholas went to the house under the cover of night and threw a purse filled with gold through a window for the family to discover the next morning.
Some retellings of the story have Nicholas returning three consecutive nights with a bag for each daughter. Others have him returning as each girl came of age.
Attempting to discover the identity of their benefactor, the father lies in wait on the third evening. In one version, Nicholas learns of the father’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead of throwing it through the window. Another version describes the daughter washing her stockings that evening and hanging them over the embers to dry. The bag of gold then falls into one of her stockings.
Saint Nicholas Providing Dowries
This is how Saint Nicholas became known as the patron saint of prostitutes.
On Christmas morning, as you and your loved ones discover presents under the tree and stockings magically filled, remember that the day represents the care and love we have for each other. More specifically, it is a strong reminder that you do not want to end up turning to a life of prostitution.