The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends.
Saint Nicholas of Myra was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. On three different occasions, the bags of gold providing the dowries had appeared in their home. They had been tossed through an open window and are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man and became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need and his love for children. Thus began the tradition of gift-giving in honour of Saint Nicholas, whose modern name Santa Claus, comes from the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’.
Saint Nicholas died on 6 th December, 343 AD and so on the eve of his death, children were bestowed gifts in his honour. December 6 th is still the main day for gift giving in many countries in Europe. In other countries, the day of gifts was moved in the course of the Reformation and its opposition to the veneration of saints in many countries on the 24 th and 25 th December.
Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. So in 1087, most of his bones were moved to Bari in Italy, where they remain to this day. A basilica was constructed the same year to store his remains and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout.