While the 4th century pastor who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus did not live in the North Pole or travel by reindeer, he certainly was a model of graciousness, gentleness and Christian charity. Though little is known of Nicholas' childhood, his love and concern for children is recounted in various myths, which have gained him great renown. One legend tells how a citizen of Patara (a region in the Diocese where Nicholas was Bishop) lost his fortune because he could not raise dowries for his 3 young daughters and was going to give them up to prostitution. After hearing this, Nicholas took a small bag of gold and threw it through the window of the man's house. He apparently performed the same gracious deed for the other 2 girls on the succeeding nights. Interestingly, the 3 purses of gold which are sometimes portrayed in paintings of Nicholas are thought to be the origin of the pawnbroker's symbol of 3 gold balls.
In yet another legend, Nicholas saved several youngsters from certain death when he pulled them from a deep vat of vinegar brine and afterwards, Christians remembered the day by giving one another large crisp pickles.
Whilst the actual truthfulness of such tales has clearly been distorted over the centuries, it is evident from reading about Saint Nicholas that he was a particular champion of the downtrodden, bestowing upon them gifts as token of the grace and mercy of the gospel. One such evidence is Nicholas comment that:
The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this not of ourselves.
It is such a view and the inspiring stories associated with such godly men that have been the inspiration for Christians to act as they do not least in their habit of gift giving during the season of Christmas. To all you Christians, raise a glass to Saint Nicholas. To everyone else, enjoy the blessings of Christmas gift-giving on us!