First Day of Christmas

Nicholas, The Most Popular Saint
By Katherine Tapley-Milton

Saint Nicholas icon, 1720
Saint Nicholas icon, 1720

Saint Nicholas is a third century saint best known for his secret acts of generosity and his special concern for the poor, those on death row, sailors, and children. In Greek his name means “victory of the people” and his Dutch name “Sinterklass” has been translated into English as “Santa Claus”.

Saint Nicholas is reported to have been born in Patara, Greece which in modern times is Demre in the Antalya province of southern Turkey.  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church comments that, “Though one of the most popular saints in both the Greek and Latin churches, scarcely anything is historically certain about him.” (2nd Edition, 1983, p. 970)

The legend surrounding Saint Nicholas has him born to wealthy parents who raised him as a Christian.  Allegedly, they died in an epidemic and left Nicholas a sizable inheritance.  Nicholas is said to have taken Jesus’ command “to sell what you own and give the money to the poor” very seriously and gave unstintingly to those in need.

One of the stories told about Saint Nicholas claims that there were three daughters without dowries who were in danger of being sold as slaves because of their poverty.  Nicholas is credited with anonymously giving them bags of gold so that they could get married.  Some reports claim that the gold was tossed in the window and landed in stockings set before the fire to dry.  This started the custom of youngsters hanging up their stockings in the hopes that Saint Nicholas would deposit gifts in them.  December 6th is celebrated in churches worldwide as Saint Nicholas Day since that is believed to be the day that the saint died.

Father Kevin Stockall at Saint Paul’s Anglican Church in Sackville, NB has been having Saint Nicholas Day services with the children for the past decade.  When asked why his church has the ceremony he commented, “The nice thing about Saint Nicholas of course is that he teaches us that life is more complete, more satisfactory, and more fulfilling if we learn the tradition of giving and not just receiving, which seems to be a part of our secular Santa Claus tradition. We celebrate Saint Nicholas with a visit for the same reason that we commemorate the saints throughout the church year in other ways.  The saints have this amazing gift for pointing us to Christ.”

The children at Saint Paul’s church also seem enthusiastic about Saint Nicholas Day.  Kathleen Craig, who is in grade nine commented, “We get to see him (Saint Nicholas) coming into church and giving the little kids candy and oranges or chocolate. He comes in with the big robe, staff and hat and comes up and talks to kids and explains why Saint Nicholas (Day) exists. ”

The message Kathleen gets from Saint Nicholas is that of helping others. She says, “You may be doing something small like saying ‘hello’ or lending them your pencil sharpener, or it could be something huge like giving some money for a loan to go to university.  Help other people, be nice.  It might cost you a little to help someone, but in the end you will get paid for it.”

Katherine Tapley-Milton lives with her husband, Dave, and four cats in Atlantic Canada.  She graduated from Mount Allison University with a B.A. in the areas of psychology, sociology, and history and then got a Master of Theolgogical Studies degree from Tyndale Seminary in Willowdale, Ontario in 1981. Katherine has been a freelance writer for the last 35 years, has been published in over 100 periodicals, and has three books on the market. In May of 2005, she graduated from the BUILT’s Customer Service Representative Course, and in 2006 her autobiographical book “Mind Full of Scorpions” was published on Katherine’s “Daily Meditations for Cat Lovers” and “Boats, Brine and Beaches” are available at She also plans to publish “Old Boats and Old Quotes” and “Mailboxes of Nova Scotia”. Katherine’s hobbies include cooking, organic gardening, writing, reading historical romances, doing crafts, and researching diets, and fitness. She has suffered from schizoaffective disorder since she was 14.