Even in our modern understanding of Saint Nicholas, that is, in all the movies and stories about Santa Claus, we have not forgotten one of the most important things about St. Nicholas, something that he did so much and so often, that it helps us know why he is such a shining star and saint of the Church: he gave to the poor. All the stories of Santa Claus are rooted in the way that St. Nicholas gave, especially giving alms. The idea of stockings hanging on the fireplace or filling shoes with coins, go back to one specific time that St. Nicholas gave to the poor.
In the city where St. Nicholas lived, there also lived a man who once had been rich, but had fallen into poverty. This man had three daughters. At that time, a woman could not marry unless her family was able to give a dowry, that is, money and gifts, to the family of the man she hoped to marry. This man was so poor that he had lost all hope of being able to marry off his daughters.
In his despair, an evil idea came to him: for his family to have the money to survive, he decided to sell his daughters into a kind of slavery. The girls would have been forced to do ugly and awful things.
St. Nicholas learned about this evil intention–and if it is anything like many other times with St. Nicholas, maybe it was revealed to him by God, something God showed him so he could save the souls of these girls and their father by helping them not make such a disastrous decision. St. Nicholas wanted to provide money for them, but in a way that they would not know who had given the money.
At night, when it was dark and nobody would see him, St. Nicholas quietly tossed a small bag of gold coins into the shoes of the oldest daughter. Of course, when the coins were found the next day when she went to put on her shoes, she would have instantly known that even a small bag of gold would be enough to pay a dowry to a future husband, and that she would not have to go through with the unmentionable plan of her father.
On a different night, St. Nicholas did the same for the second daughter, and in the same way, she, too, could now marry and live a good and godly life with a family.
However, in a desire to find out who this mysterious benefactor was, the father tried to watch for him. Some stories say that St. Nicholas dropped the third daughter’s bag of coins down the chimney, so that he could keep hidden and not let anybody know who was giving these coins to the family. So, you can see how not only St. Nicholas’s love of giving is still remembered in the Santa Claus types of stories, but even the idea of giving gifts down a chimney has not been forgotten.
When we remember St. Nicholas’s love for giving and taking care of the poor, and even every time we receive presents at Christmas, we need to remember that God loves the poor, and that we, too, need to give. Give to those who do not have. Give to others out of love. Truly, as Christ said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.