Now that Christmas has come to our land, and Santa Claus is on every child's mind, it might be worthwhile to review a little bit about the original Saint Nicholas--Santa Claus arising from a childish German and Dutch corruption of his name.
There actually was a bishop of the Lycian city of Myra, now in southwestern Turkey, by the name of Nicholas, who died somewhere between 345 and 352 A.D. Apparently, as a young man, he went on a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, and shortly after his return became the Christian bishop of Myra. His association with the city of Bari in Italy stems from the theft of his relics from Asia Minor by a group of Italian merchants in 1087. But, to return to his actual life, he was famous for his generosity towards the poor, including providing dowries for impoverished young women. This, apparently, is the origin of the medieval tradition that associates him with gift-giving. In the medieval Roman Church, his festival was celebrated in December, so it was not difficult for it to be assimilated to Christmas, the remembrance of God's ultimate gift of His Son, Jesus the Messiah.
However, Nicholas' life took interesting turns in the early 4th century. In 302-303 A.D., Diocletian, the Emperor of the East, initiated the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Among those arrested and tortured was Nicholas, for as a bishop, he was very prominent among the Christians. However, Diocletian's health failed while the political star of Constantine was rising,so when Constantine became emperor and declared Christianity a legal religion, Nicholas avoided becoming living lion chow and was released to go back to his prior work of winning and nurturing souls for Christ.
But things did not end happily ever after. In Alexandria, a presbyter by the name of Arius anticipated the Jehovah's Witnesses by more than fifteen hundred years by declaring that Christ, as God the Son, was not co-eternal with the Father, but the first created being. Much of the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire accepted Arian teaching, although Nicholas did not. When Constantine called an ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, Nicholas attended, where he was such an ardent supporter of the formula that Christ is "very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father" that he punched out Arius when the two men met. Things probably did not go all that well for Nicholas in the following years, since despite the pronunciations of the bishops of Nicaea, the heirs of Constantine tended to favor the Arian or Semi-Arian (Christ is of "like substance" with the Father) positions.
However, when all is summed up, Nicholas remained a witness to the deity of Jesus Christ as taught in the Gospel and Epistles of John the Apostle, and stands as an exemplar of Christian charity. As such, he deserves to be remembered fondly by those who know and love New Testament truth.
Uncle Cephas wishes all a Merry Christmas!