Saint Nicholas (traditionally 270-343) Feast Day: December 6
Saint Nicholas is one of the longest-revered saints for his generosity to others in need, and is the origin for the legend of Santa Claus! Nicholas was a bishop in Greece in the fourth century. In one of the most famous episodes of his life, he is said to have heard of a poor family who could not afford dowries for their three daughters to marry. Every night for three nights, Nicholas dropped gold coins through the family's window—leading to the tradition that St. Nicholas, St. Nick, or "Santa Claus" brings Christmas gifts today.
St. Nicholas wasn't all fun and games, though. According to legend, he slapped the heretic Arius in the face for claiming that Jesus was not equal to the Father at the first ecumenical council of Nicea. In another story, he rescued three innocent men who had been condemned to death. He was clearly a man of generosity, charity, and powerful service to others and the truth. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children.
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas. Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Judith Brown. Bethlehem Books, 1997. (K-3) Christmas, Generosity Set in communist Russia, Alexi’s grandmother regales him with stories of how their Russian village used to celebrate Christmas ("before the soldiers came" and shut down the church). She recalls the crowded Mass, the glittering candles, all watched over by the icon of St. Nicholas. That hasn’t been possible since revolutionary troops closed the church 60 years before. Alexi not only dreams of a miracle that restores the church and gives the villagers back their beautiful celebration, but he works to make it happen. This story is a great reminder that religious freedom is not guaranteed world wide.
St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend.Julie Stiegemeyer Illustrated by Chris Ellison. Concordia, 2003. (K-3) Generosity A young child’s introduction to the real St. Nicholas, fourth century bishop of Lycia, who helped provide a dowry for the daughters of a local villager, and whose generosity is commemorated in tales of Santa Claus.
The Baker’s Dozen. Aaron Shepard. Illustrated by Wendy Edelson. Skyhook Press, 2018. (K-3) Generosity, Christmas. Not really a saint story, but a fanciful St. Nicholas Day tale in the spirit of the saint's life. In a colonial town, Baker Van Amsterdam gives his customers exactly what they pay for – not more, not less. He bakes beautiful Saint Nicholas cookies for the saint’s holiday. When an old woman asks him for 13 cookies for the price of 12, he refuses. She (or is it really St. Nicholas in disguise?) puts a curse on him. His business begins to fail until one night he dreams of St. Nicholas and realizes that it is through giving that he receives. He institutes the practice of giving 13 for a dozen and his shop prospers. Exquisite illustrations are vibrant and cheery.
Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins. Jim Forest. Illustrated byVladislav Andrejev. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2015. (K-4) Generosity, Charity, Christmas. Vivid iconographic illustrations accompany the story of St. Nicholas, particularly spotlighting the story of his gift of nine gold coins to young women in need. A respectful and religious telling in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox church, with a balance between storytelling with personal details (including Nicholas' relationship with his uncle, who was also a bishop and encouraged Nicholas to be a bishop instead of a sailor) and learning more about this man's remarkable life (including ancient icons at the end of the book).
The Secret of St. Nicholas.Ellen Nibali Illustrated by Lon Eric Craven. Fairand Books, 2010. (3-5) Generosity, Charity, Christmas. Historically based introduction to St. Nicholas by a master-story teller and talented illustrator. Recounts the story of Nicholas’s attempt to rescue three daughters who were to be sold into slavery, and his emergence as bishop of Lycia.
The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas. William J. Bennett. Howard Books, 2009. (5-Adult) An older grade overview of the historical St. Nicholas by one of America’s leading educators. The book treats his life, legends that sprang up about his deeds, and his ongoing legacy.