Saint Nicholas, who is known worldwide as Santa Claus, was born in the ancient Lycian city of Patara, an important city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Around 300 AD, during a prosperous era for Patara, a rich wheat merchant had a son and named him Nicholas. His birth was accepted as a gift from the Heavens, the fruit of his parents’ prayers and wows and a savior for the poor people. It is believed that he performed miracles even as a young man.
According to one legend, Nicholas was trapped under the wreckage of an old church and he survived it while his mother was crying and calling out for him. After the death of Nicholas’ father, he inherited a large estate which he decided to use to aid the poor. At around the same time, one of Patara’s wealthiest men fell into poverty to such an extent that he lacked the means to even put together dowries for his daughters.
He felt so desperate that he was even considering selling his daughters when Nicholas decided to help them. One night he entered the their house secretly in order to remain anonymous and also to spare the family’s honor. While the family was asleep he dropped into the open window of the eldest daughter a bag of gold, enough to cover her dowry. In the morning, the daughter was overjoyed the find the gold which would save her from this desperate situation.
Later, Nicholas also decided to help the two younger daughters but since as their windows were closed, he dropped the money for them in a bag from the chimney. This started the legend of Santa Claus distributing presents at Christmas time. This story also explains why he is depicted in pictures and iconographic representations bearing three balls made of gold.
Another story from St. Nicholas life is as follows:
Nicholas went to Jerusalem to become a pilgrim. On his way back, he saved a ship from sinking. Miraculously, he also brought a drowned sailor back to life. From that time on, St. Nicholas has been known as the patron saint of sailors. After some years, Nicholas left his home of Patara and moved to the nearby city of Myra. At that time, the bishop of Myra had passed away and no agreement could be reached on his successor.
Finally the city’s residents decided that the next person to enter the local church would become their next bishop. The first to enter was Nicholas, and so he took on the church post. His miracles continued in Myra, including an incident in which he saved the lives of three generals. Another story goes as follows: One year Myra experienced a great famine. A fleet carrying corn from Alexandria to Byzantium stopped off at Myra’s harbor of Andriake.
Nicholas ran to the harbor and demanded that each ship give him a certain share of corn. When the sailors returned to Byzantium, they were shocked to discover that all the corn that they had given unwillingly was right back where they had left it. Like many Christians of his era, Nicholas was imprisoned for a time on account of his faith by the Emperors Diocletian and Licinius. In 325, Nicholas participated in a council meeting held to settle a number of theological disputes within Christianity in his capacity as the bishop of Myra.
A churchman named Bonaventure claimed that on his way to the council, Nicholas brought back to life three children who had been killed and were about to be eaten. Legend says that Nicholas, who is also known as the patron saint of students, is believed to have passed away at the age of 65 on December 6, 343. The Myrians built a church to honor his saintly memory and interred him in a sarcophagus as his final resting place. On April 20, 1087, during the First Crusade, some parts of his skeleton were stolen and taken away by merchants from Bari. The rest of his remains can currently be found at the Antalya Museum.