I know what you are thinking. Red suit. Fur Trim. Eight reindeer with a sleigh filled with gigantic bags of wrapped (!!) toys and presents. I know you are thinking about the parades of this guy from Thanksgiving until 12/25. And then he falls off the radar screen until the next Thanksgiving. The real St. Nicholas was far, far better. And, think of the holidays that could spin around his attributes.
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, and students in Greece, Russia and Serbia. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla (Colombia), Bari (Italy) Amsterdam (Netherlands), and of Beit Jala in the West Bank of Palestine.
A Few insights into St. Nicholas' fabulousity:
Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and is often called upon by sailors who are in danger of drowning or being shipwrecked. According to one legend, as a young man Nicholas went to study in Alexandria and on one of his (sea) voyages from Myra to Alexandria he is said to have saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship's rigging in a storm. In a colourful version of this legend, Nicholas saved the man on his voyage back from Alexandria to Myra and upon his arrival took the sailor to the church. The image above is Bicci di Lorenzo's image of Saint Nicholas calming the storm.
Another legend tells how a terrible famine struck the island and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, only to kill and slaughter them and put their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also managed to resurrect the three boys from the barrel. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the eleventh century, claims that they were instead three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them, and was advised by his wife to dispose of them by turning them into meat pies. The Saint saw through this and brought the men back to life. The image above is Bicci di Lorenzo's (1433-35)St. Nicholas Resuscitating Three Youthsfrom the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. NY. What is not to love here?
Finally, in his most famous exploit however, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him but being too modest (or too shy) to help the man in public, he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window opening onto the man's floor. One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes "of age". Invariably the third time the father lies in waiting, trying to discover their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead. For his help to the poor, Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers; the three gold balls traditionally hung outside a pawnshop symbolize the three sacks of gold. People then began to suspect that he was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas. Above, Bicci di Lorenzo, St. Nicholas Providing Dowries. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
According to the Golden Legend's account of this death, there sprang out from under Nicholas' tomb a fountain of oil which was able to cure the sick. The man on crutches on the right may possibly represent those who came to be cured.
There is so much more. What is not to love about this modest saint (who is said to be a short man, just barely five feet tall)--who rescues girls from a possible life of prostitution. Or saves the boys from the ham incident or calming storms to rescue sailors. Sure beats the guy who shops at Toys R Us.