St. Nicholas, model for Santa Claus

Did you know that the legend of Santa Claus actually is based on a saint?

Saint Nicholas (270-343) was a bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in shoes, and thus became the model for Santa Claus.

In fact, Santa Claus is the modern name of the Dutch Sinterklaas, which is a corruption of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”.


On December 6, the Universal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Nicholas, from whom Santa Claus evolved. St. Nicholas is highly honored throughout the world, with many churches dedicated in memory to his holiness and his effective advocacy.

Nicholas was born at Patara in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas’ parents were well off and they died when he was a young man, leaving him many assets. Nicholas, filled with generosity and goodness, with empathy for his fellow brothers and sisters, devoted himself to works of charity and the needy he found in his community. For example, a citizen of Patara, with three daughters, lost all of his money. Because of this circumstance of poverty, the three ladies could not find husbands, wherein they were destined to become prostitutes. Nicholas discovered their horrible upcoming fate. He then took a bag of gold and under cover in the dark, threw the money into the window of the man’s home. Therefore, the oldest daughter now had a dowry and she was soon married. Nicholas did the same act of charity for the other two daughters. The father recognized and thanked Nicholas as his benefactor.

At the beginning of the fourth century, Nicholas went to the city of Myra, the capital of Patara in Lycia. It so happened that the Catholic clergy in this episcopal see were electing a new bishop and the clergy chose Nicholas for his reputation had preceded him.

“As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians.  But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra.”

Nicholas continued on with his works of charity, taking strong measures against paganism, setting free prisoners who had been falsely accused, and caring for his people in Myra. It is believed that he was present at the Council of Nicea which arose the Nicene Creed that we say today. Additionally, Nicholas condemned one of the heresies of his time, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Trinity. St. Methodius states that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolies of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy.”

St. Nicholas died and was buried in Myra. He is honored as the patron saint of sailors and children. It is said that during his lifetime, Nicholas had appeared to storm-tossed mariners who asked for his assistance wherein they were brought safely to port. As the patron saint of children, Nicholas is particularly associated with the giving of gifts at Christmas time. With St. Andrew, he is patron of Russia, Greece, Apulia, Sicily and Lorraine.

Let us during this Christmas Season remember this dear saint, be generous to others, giving our love with joy and happiness, always remembering the true meaning of Christmas (Christ’s Mass), the birth of Our Dear Savior, Jesus Christ, coming into the world through the Blessed Virgin, God Incarnate, and being protected and cared for by the wonderful St. Joseph.  LOVE was born to the world.  Come Lord Jesus, Come!



  • Wikipedia
  • Lives of the Saints, Edited by Michael Walsh.
  • One Hundred Saints, Fulfinch Press, AOL Time Warner Book Group.

4 responses to “St. Nicholas, model for Santa Claus

  1. My mostly Austrian and British Isles dad had a Dutch Great-grandfather. He must have been influential in our family, b/c we did not hang stockings by the hearth, as did all my otherwise Germanic/Nordic relations/background ….instead, we put our shoes outside the door for “Sinterklaas” to visit (with oranges, nuts, maybe a threatened lump of coal?). I still keep my Dutch/wooden barn shoes on the hearth all year long, but especially at Christmas, ready for “Sinterklaas” to visit me. Does anyone else share this custom?

    Liked by 2 people

    • We lived in Holland for nearly 2 years, and in Kindergarten my son had a British teacher, and was taught about that custom of placing shoes on the hearth on December 6th[I think it was], but it was something my husband and I had never heard of before. I thought it was a wonderful custom in celebration of the real St. Nicolas, but we decided that our own custom of placing stockings on the fireplace mantel on Christmas Eve was the one we wanted our children to take part in.

      Looking back on it now, I wish we’d thought more ‘internationally’ about things like that. At the time, though, I think we both actually feared that our family’s custom would be overshadowed if we did. That was back in the late 1970’s, and we were a military family, and we also were sensitive about the fad of being ‘anti’ American that seemed to have begun during the ’60’s, so that’s what influenced our decision to emphasis American customs instead.

      Our son also came home from school and wanted us to celebrate other European customs, such as Guy Fawkes Day. However, when I found out what Fawkes had done, and how the day was celebrated by burning him in effigy, I drew the line, and so did my husband! 🙂 That was a rather nasty surprise to find that out, though! My husband is 100% Italian, and I’m a mixed up mixture of Danish, English, Scottish, German and Filipino, but we were brought up so American that customs from ‘the old countries’ are just rather misty, vague notions to us, since our families never did pass much down to us–except for the love of Italian food, from my husband’s side, that is. 🙂


  2. Pingback: St. Nicholas, model for Santa Claus — Fellowship of the Minds | kommonsentsjane

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