St. Nicholas, sometimes called St. Nicholas of Myra, is one of the most popular saints in Christianity. He was born in the mid-fourth century in Lycia and ended his life as the Bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was known for his generosity and for inspiring other people to give freely, and this is the central message of most of his miracles and what he symbolizes to Christians. That, along with his kindness to children and miracles tied to feasting, make St. Nicholas the perfect saint to associate with Christmas.
St. Nicholas was known for his generosity, which is tied to the most famous story in his hagiography: that of the three daughters. In the town where St. Nicholas lived there was a man who was so poor that he could not support his daughters or marry them off. Thus, he was planning to sell them into prostitution. Upon hearing this, St. Nicholas filled three bags with gold and dropped them anonymously into the man's house -- according to some versions, down the chimney where they landed in a stocking that was hanging to dry. Thus each daughter had a dowry and was saved from a life of prostitution.
Among many other things, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and several of the miracles recounted in his Golden Legend involve bringing children back to life. In one story, three boys were kidnapped and killed by a man who pickled them, planning to sell them as hams to the starving people of a city. St. Nicholas, who was passing through the area, immediately knew the actions the man had taken. After denouncing him, St. Nicholas brought the three boys back to life. He also resurrected another child on Christmas day.
Nicholas is also strongly associated with feasting and the ending of hunger. In one of his most famous miracles, Myra, the city where he was bishop, was experiencing a famine. Meanwhile, a ship had anchored in the port that was loaded with wheat for the Emperor Constantine. St. Nicholas convinced the sailors to unload the wheat for Myra, even though to lose any of the emperor's cargo would likely mean their lives. Their act of generosity was not punished however, for when they got to Rome the weight of the cargo was unchanged from when they had docked at Myra.
There are many other miracles St. Nicholas is said to have performed. One, which made him the patron saint of sailors, occurred when a group of sailors who were caught in a storm called upon St. Nicholas to save them. He appeared before them and immediately the storm ceased. In other miracle, for which Nicholas is the patron saint of thieves, he appeared before a group of thieves who had stolen everything from a house except for an icon of St. Nicholas and convinced them to return everything they had taken.
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