The Legend of St. Nicholas and the Gold
Once upon a time, in a northern Mediterranean town, there lived a husband and wife who became successful merchants. Their shop in the town square bustled with activity. But even though their business was quite profitable, they were heartbroken because they were unable to have any children. As time passed, they prayed that God would give them a child to brighten their later years. At last a son was born. They named him Nicholas and they lavished on him their love.
As Nicholas grew, he spent his afternoons scurrying around the shop with his parents. In the evening, he liked to sit at his father’s desk and watch as his father counted the day’s proceeds. Always, before he began, Nicholas’s father would drop a gold coin into each of three small cloth bags on a corner of the desk.
“This is for tomorrow, Nicholas,” he would say, “so you’ll always have soup with your bread.”
While Nicholas was still a young man, both his parents died. He was able to live comfortably on his inheritance, so he tucked the three bags of gold away “for tomorrow,” and as the years passed he forgot about them.
Having been raised in the church, Nicholas decided to pursue the priesthood and he eventually became bishop of the Christian church of Myra. One morning, as he was walking toward the vestry, he noticed a ragged man kneeling to pray. Nicholas had often seen the man scavenging in the local marketplace and recognized him as a former nobleman who had fallen on hard times.
“Oh God, please help me,” the man cried as he prayed. “If I cannot find work, I cannot buy bread. And if I cannot buy bread, I will have to turn my three daughters out on to the streets to fend for themselves.”
Nicholas’s heart was moved with compassion, and he began to pray that God would show him how he could help this poor man and his family. That evening, as he made his way home through the gathering twilight, Nicholas suddenly remembered the bags of gold. This is for tomorrow, Nicholas, so you will always have soup with your bread. Excitedly, he rushed to his house and clambered into the attic where the gold was hidden.
Nicholas knew the nobleman would be too proud to take money from him, so he decided to find another way. He took one bag of gold and under the cover of darkness crept to the nobleman’s house. To his delight he found a front window open just enough to slip the bag through. A candle flickered in the background, indicating that someone might be inside, so to avoid detection he quickly slid the bag of gold over the sill and ran away.
Not long after, Nicholas was invited to preside at the wedding of the nobleman’s eldest daughter, who suddenly had a large dowry. At the wedding, the nobleman regaled the guests with his tale of the miraculous appearance of the bag of gold.
When Nicholas saw the joy that his gift had brought, he resolved to provide a dowry for the second daughter as well. A few nights later, he took another bag of gold and slipped it through the nobleman’s window. Again the nobleman was overjoyed, and his middle daughter soon married into a prominent family. Now the father no longer had to scrounge in the marketplace, and when Nicholas saw him next, the man was wearing a new pair of trousers and a jacket.
After the second wedding, however, the father began to wonder how these “bags from Heaven” had been delivered. He determined to watch his window every night in case a bag of gold might appear for his youngest daughter.
Meanwhile, Nicholas decided it was only right that he should give the third daughter a bag of gold as well, even though the nobleman was obviously no longer destitute. That night, a chilly evening in early December, he once again made his way to the open window and tossed his treasure inside. As he fled, however, he heard the vigilant nobleman call out, “Bishop Nicholas! Is it you?”
Nicholas implored the man not to tell anyone about the gold, but the secret could not be kept. The story of Nicholas’s generosity soon spread throughout the town. With his newfound fortune, the nobleman was restored to prominence in the local government. To celebrate his gratitude to the kindly bishop, the nobleman declared an annual feast to be held on December 6, and many of the villagers brought gifts to share with those who were in need.
And that is how St. Nicholas became associated with the giving of gifts.