American Minute with Bill Federer

There Really is a Santa Claus! - The History of Saint Nicholas 

Greek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas being born around 280 AD, the only child of a wealthy, elderly couple who lived in Patara, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).

When his parents died in a plague, Nicholas inherited their wealth.

Nicholas generously gave to the poor, but did it anonymously as he wanted the glory to go to God.

One notable incident was when a merchant in town had gone bankrupt.


The creditors not only threatened to take the merchants' assets, but also his children.

The merchant had three daughters and knew if they were taken it would probably mean a life of sex-trafficking and prostitution.

The merchant had the idea of quickly marrying his daughters off so the creditors could not take them.

Unfortunately, he did not have money for a dowry, which was needed in that area of the world for a legally recognized wedding.

Nicholas heard of the merchant's dilemma and threw a bag of money in the window for the oldest daughter's dowry.

Supposedly the bag of money landed in a shoe or a stocking that was drying by the fireplace.

It was the talk of the town when the first daughter got married.

Nicholas then threw a bag of money in the window for the second daughter and she was able to get married.

Upon throwing money in for the third daughter, the merchant ran outside and caught Nicholas.

Nicholas made him promise not to tell where the money came from.

This was the origin of the tradition of secret gift-giving on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas' death, which was DECEMBER 6, 343 AD.

The three gold balls outside a pawnbrokers shop represent the three bags of gold St. Nicholas used to rescue a family in their time of financial need.

 Get the book There Really is a Santa Claus - The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions

St. Nicholas became Bishop of Myra, a busy port city on the coast of Asia Minor.

Soon St. Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned during Emperor Diocletian's brutal persecution of Christians.

St. Nicholas would not deny his faith in Christ!

St. Nicholas was freed when Emperor Constantine ended Rome's three century long persecution of Christians.


When the first major heresy, the Arian Heresy, began to split the Christian Church, Constantine ordered all the bishops to go to Nicea to settle it, which they did by writing the Nicene Creed.


The tradition is that St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea and was so upset at Arius for starting this heresy that he slapped him across the face.

Jolly Old St. Nick had a little temper!

St. Nicholas
preached against the Diana worship at Ephesus, where the Apostle Paul also had preached according to the Book of Acts, chapter 19.

The Temple to Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, having 127 huge pillars . . . and temple prostitutes.

It was the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean world.

The people responded to St. Nicholas' fiery preaching by tearing down the local temple to Diana.

St. Nicholas also stood up to corrupt politicians.

One story was of a corrupt governor who was about to execute some innocent soldiers in order to cover up his misdeeds.

St. Nicholas broke through the crowd, grabbed the executioner's sword, threw it down and then exposed the governor's evil plot.

Greek Orthodox tradition attributes many miraculous answers to St. Nicholas' prayers.

Once a storm was so bad fishermen and sailors were not able to get back to shore.

The people asked St. Nicholas to pray and the sea became calm enough for the fishermen and sailors to return safely to port.

This led to St. Nicholas being considered the patron saint of sailors.

There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions

St. Nicholas' reputation grew so much that he became to Greek Orthodox Christians what St. Peter was to Roman Catholic Christians.

In the 5th century a church in Myra was named after St. Nicholas, being rebuilt by Emperor Justinian after an earthquake in 529.

In 988AD, Vladimir the Great of Russia converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted Nicholas as the Patron Saint of Russia.

In the 11th century, Muslim Seljuks Turks invaded Asia Minor, killing Christians, destroying churches and digging up the bones of Christian saints and desecrating them.

For protection, Christians shipped St. Nicholas' remains to a church in the town of Bari in southern Italy in the year 1087.

Pope Urban II dedicated the church, naming it after St. Nicholas - the Basilica di San Nicola, thus introducing the Greek St. Nicholas to Western Europe.

So many Christians were fleeing the expanding Islamic State that Pope Urban II called European leaders to send the First Crusade to stop the Muslim invasion.

Europeans quickly embraced the gift-giving traditions associated with St. Nicholas' Day, DECEMBER 6.

How did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus?

Martin Luther began the Reformation and ended all "Saints Day," including the popular "St. Nicholas Day."

Since Germans like the gift-giving so much, Martin Luther moved the gift-giving to December 25th to emphasize that all gifts from from the Christ Child.

The German pronunciation of Christ Child was "Christkindl", which over the centuries got pronounced Kris Kringle.

Greeks built on the prophecy of Jesus returning at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead, riding a white horse, and the saints returning with him riding white horses.

St. Nicholas will certainly be one of those returning saints.

Just like the Roman Catholics stories of St. Peter being at the Gates of Heaven, the Greek have the story of St. Nicholas coming back once a year for a sort of mini pre-Judgement Day.

Over the centuries, the story evolved.

In Norway they did not have horses so St. Nicholas is riding a reindeer.

Saints came heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City - which turned into the North Pole.


The Lamb's Book of Life and Book of Works turned into the Book of the Naughty and the Nice.

The angels turned into elves.

Eventually, Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas traditions to New Amsterdam, which became New York.

The Dutch pronounced Saint Nicholas as "Sinter Klass," which became "Santa Claus."

Author Washington Irving, who wrote Legend of Sleepy Hallow and Rip Van Winkle, wrote Diedrich Knickerbocker's A History of New York, 1809, in which he swapped out St. Nicholas' Bishop's outfit for a Dutch outfit of long-trunk hose, leather belt, boots and a stocking hat.

Clement Moore wrote in 1823 "A Visit From St. Nicholas":

'TWAS the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung
by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas
soon would be there..."

Clement Moore describe St. Nicholas as smaller: 

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself...."

To find out how Harper's illustrator Thomas Nast and Coca Cola artist Haddon Sundblom helped embellish Saint Nicholas into "Jolly Old St. Nick," and much, much more, get the fascinating book:

There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions.

Kirk Cameron mentioned Bill Federer's book in an interview about his new movie Saving Christmas

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