In 1823 Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal clergyman, wrote a poem called, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to read to his children on Christmas eve.
It begins, "'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."
The poem was later published and defined the image of Santa Claus we have today. He gave Santa reindeer to pull his sleigh and a bundle of toys for filling Christmas stockings. But, why did Moore refer to his jolly old elf as St. Nicholas?
The legends of St. Nicholas actually pre-dates Moore's Santa Claus by about 1,700 years
Nicholas lived in Myra, which is in modern-day Turkey. His ancestors were converted to Christianity by Paul himself just 200 years earlier. Nicholas was a Christian, too, and eventually became a bishop in the early church.
There are many reports of Nicholas' unselfish generosity.
As one story goes, a man in his hometown had three unmarried daughters. But, he didn't have enough money for any of them to have a dowry. So, the daughters couldn't get married.
Nicholas had inherited some money and one night secretly left a bag of gold for the family. Part of the legend even says that Nicholas dropped the gold down the chimney --and it landed in a stocking that had been hung up to dry by the fireplace.
The father awoke and chased down the man who had left the gold to thank him. He bowed and tried to kiss Nicholas' feet, but Nicholas raised the man up and told him that God alone should be thanked for the gift of gold.
Nicholas always insisted that no credit or thanks be given to him, but to God only.
Many more stories and pictures of St. Nicholas can be found in "St. Nicholas, A Closer Look at Christmas" by Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal.
The authors say that it was the story of the gold dropping down the chimney that made St. Nicholas a legend.
Down through the centuries, many countries have loved and anticipated the arrival of St. Nicholas each December. They call him by many names--Sinter Claus, Pere Noel, Father Christmas, Santa Claus. He is often portrayed wearing bishop's robes, and sometimes even a warm red suit.
So, is St. Nicholas real? Yes. Many stories and legends have grown up around this man. He is remembered today for giving to those who are in need.
And as Nicholas reminded the man with three daughters-- we should thank God for the gifts we receive, not just at Christmas, but all year long.