An ancient manuscript
called the "Golden Legend" tells of a man name Nicholas who,
while on a ship plying the Mediterranean, asked God to calm a fierce
storm. The weather cleared and the ship drifted into the harbor of
Myra, in what is now Turkey. At that time, the elders of the local
church were attempting to elect a new bishop. A message from God, in the
form of a vision, instructed the elders to select the first man named
Nicholas who entered the church to pray after a certain hour. In walked
the nearly shipwrecked Nicholas to thank God for his survival. To his
surprise, he was then elected Bishop of Myra.
Nicholas was credited with
many miracles and good deeds. It was while he was a young boy that the
most memorable of these good deeds reportedly occurred. The story
involves three young girls from a once wealthy family. 4 Their father
could no longer afford to give the girls each a dowry so they could
marry. They secretly agreed to draw lots, the loser to sell herself into
slavery to provide a dowry for the two lucky ones. The legend has it
that Nicholas heard of their plight and made a nighttime visit, dropping
bags of gold into their windows. They each had a dowry and one of them
was saved from slavery.
As an outgrowth of this legend, French
nuns in the twelfth century began making night time visits to poor
families with children, leaving fruits and nuts which these families
could not afford. The nuns made their gift-giving rounds on St. Nicholas’
Eve, December 5th. The tradition spread through the Old World and then
to the New.
The proximity of St. Nicholas’ Day to
Christmas eventually melded the two feast days into part of the holiday
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