He was born in 280 AD in Lycia, Asia Minor. His parents died when he was young, leaving him great wealth. The saint was known for doing good deeds and sharing his wealth, such as anonymously delivering sacks of gold to those in need in the dark of night. He performed many miracles and exercised a special power over flames. He practiced both the spiritual and temporal works of mercy, and fasted twice a week. When he heard that a father who had fallen into poverty was about to expose his three daughters to a life of sin, Nicholas took a bag of gold and secretly flung it through the window into the room of the sleeping father. In this way, the three girls were dowered and saved from mortal sin.
The American Santa Claus, or Old Saint Nick, was derived from the actual St. Nicholas.
How to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas:
The day is celebrated widely in some countries. In Germany, children put out boots, or Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside on the eve of the Feast Day, in hopes that the saint will leave them treats or goodies.
In the Alsace region of France, for example, a little donkey carries baskets of for children through towns and villages. Special treats are baked and shared, including gingerbread biscuits and a brioche shaped like the saint.
In Italy, a San Nicola festival commemorates the arrival of St. Nicholas’ remains in the town of Bar in 1087. It is a day of festivals and gift giving. Also, because he is the patron saint of women wishing to be married, some young women leave notes and coins for the saint in the basilica there.
Many American families celebrate a version of this day, too. Some follow their nationality’s traditions. Others simply set out a shoe or a sock for the saint to fill on the eve, so the next morning their children awake to find small gifts and treats such as oranges. Oranges symbolize the bags of gold coins St. Nicholas would give away.