The life of Saint Nicholas is poorly known and stories often mix real facts and legends. Here are the historical outlines that we retain from his life. Nicolas of Myra was born around 270 in Patare in Asia Minor, to Christian parents. His mother is the sister of Nicolas the Elder, bishop of Myra, who had an important influence on the child. From childhood Nicolas showed great piety, moreover, having inherited a large fortune as a young person, he used it to make charitable works.
Nicolas was ordained a priest by his uncle and became the superior of the monastery of Herher near Myra. Following the death of his uncle, he was chosen in spite of himself to become bishop of Myra. He immediately took his office, doing his best to guide his people according to the doctrine and support them through trials. He himself was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian but released under the rule of Constantine. Bishop Nicolas took part in the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he fought Arianism. He fought firmly against idolatry and heresies. Bishop Nicolas died around 350, and his tomb at Myra quickly became a place of pilgrimage; indeed, after his death, miraculous water flowed from it. When the Turks conquered the city of Myra in the 11th century, the relics were moved to Bari in Italy, where they were highly revered, and the cult of Saint Nicholas developed rapidly in the West. Every year an ecumenical pilgrimage takes place to the tomb of Saint Nicholas, bringing together Catholics and Orthodox.
Many miracles are attributed to Saint Nicholas, and paintings have reproduced many famous scenes. A miracle frequently painted by artists is that of three officers of Emperor Constantine who, having fallen into disgrace and risen to death, prayed to God to send to them Bishop Nicolas, whom they had seen at work shortly before. He appeared in a dream to the emperor, who recognized the innocence of the three officers and released them.
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In the twelfth century, the famous story of the three children saved by Saint Nicholas was told. This legend tells that three young boys took refuge in a butcher's house, who, being very cruel, killed them by locking them in a barrel. Saint Nicholas, riding on a donkey, came to raise the three children. This story of the "three little children who were going to the fields" became deeply rooted in minds and gave rise to popular songs.
From the 11th century onwards, the worship of Saint Nicholas, which was already widespread in the East, developed considerably in the West, especially in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Alsace and Lorraine. Today, various traditions are still associated with it.
Because of the many miracles attributed to Saint Nicholas, many organizations placed themselves under his patronage. The miracle of the calmed storm earned him the patronage of sailors, boatmen, fishermen, travelers, and pilgrims. The miracle of the three officers of Constantine made Saint Nicholas the patron of the misjudged. In the East, he is the patron saint of Russia. He is also the patron of girls to be married, because a legend says that he provided a dowry to the girls of his poor neighbor.
The story of the three children resurrected by Saint Nicholas made him the protector of children and schoolchildren. His celebration on December 6th is an occasion of great festivities in the Netherlands and the surrounding regions. In Holland, on the eve of the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 5, the children place their shoes at the foot of the fireplace to receive treats. They also put outside a carrot for the donkey of Saint Nicholas. In England, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the choir.
In the many children's stories, recounting the legend, the good Saint Nicolas is depicted dressed in red, a miter on his head, a cane in his hand, and carrying gifts. If the children were not wise, however, the tradition specifies that Saint Nicolas is followed by the whipping father, who comes to punish them with his whip.
It was not until the 19th century that the iconic figure of Santa Claus appeared in the United States. He is largely inspired by Saint Nicholas, from where he took his red outfit, gifts and proximity to Christmas. However his attributes of saint were taken away from him to keep only the chubby, grandfatherly side. The memory of the saint's brilliant miracles has also been erased.
Throughout your life, you have been led by faith, hope, charity.
You have been a model of justice and gentleness. You have thus obtained by your humility to enter into the Kingdom of the Eternal Father.
We believe that you intercede for us before Him: we thank you for the example you give us.
You willingly grant your protection to all those of whom you are the patron saint: schoolchildren, students, travelers, the poor, the afflicted, the unmarried, but also to all those who entrust themselves to you. We entrust you with our families and all our intentions.
You were also the defender of the faith: obtain for us the conversion of heart, the love of the Church and of our brothers and sisters. Open ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we may remain firm in our attachment to Jesus.
Saint Nicholas, pray for us!
Holy Father and Pontiff Nicholas, you teach us the gentleness and humility of Christ our God. You present him with our prayers, our supplications, and our songs of gratitude. With your life, you give us the example of a true disciple of Jesus Christ, proclaiming the truth of God and showing tenderness and compassion for all, rich and poor. You are still, through your prayer, the one who protects, keeps children and inspires them for all that is good, good and beautiful.
In this day and hour, we pray to you for the children of the whole world, those who know God and those who do not yet know him, especially for the children (…) We also pray to you for our bishops (…), our priests (…), our deacons (…), our parents (…), our godparents (…), and for all our brothers in true faith. We pray for ourselves. Finally, we pray to you for all those who have fallen asleep in the faith, first and foremost the members of our family (…), and for all the deceased throughout the world.
Holy Father Nicholas, glorifies and prays with us the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one and only God in the ages of centuries: Amen. Amen.