Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas (lived 4th century), Christian prelate, patron saint of Russia, traditionally associated with Christmas celebrations. The accounts of his life are confused and historically unconfirmed. According to tradition he was a native of Patara, formerly a city in the ancient district of Lycia, Asia Minor (now Turkey). Nicholas entered the nearby monastery of Sion and subsequently became archbishop of the metropolitan church in Myra, Lycia. He is said to have been imprisoned during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian and to have attended the first Council of Nicaea, but this is unlikely. At the end of the 11th century some Italian merchants transported his remains from Myra to Bari, Italy, where his tomb is now a shrine.

Nicholas is the patron saint of children, scholars, virgins, sailors, and merchants, and in the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) he was regarded by thieves as their patron saint as well. Legend tells of his surreptitious gifts to the three daughters of a poor man, who, unable to give them dowries, was about to abandon them to prostitution. From this tale has grown the custom of secret gifts on the Eve of Saint Nicholas. Because of the close proximity of dates, Christmas and Saint Nicholas's Day are now celebrated simultaneously in many countries. Santa Claus, the designation for the jolly, bearded figure of folklore who is credited with bringing gifts to children on Christmas Eve, is an American derivation of the Dutch Sinter Klaas. His feast day is December 6.