|A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria. (Wikipedia)|
Nicholas became increasingly concerned about a custom in Turkey. If little girls did not have a dowry so that they could marry, they would be sold into slavery, which included prostitution. Bishop Nicholas had given away most of his own fortune so he went about and managed to collect gold from admirers.
On December 6th, under cover of darkness, he wrapped the gold coins in several little bags and visited each home that had a daughter without a dowry, dropping a bag of gold through the windows of each, which landed on the hearth where the little girl's clothes would be drying.
When the gold was discovered the next morning, the family rejoiced. Their little daughters were saved from slavery.
Nicholas continued what was to become an annual tradition. Nobody knew the identity of the mysterious benefactor who would slip around the village on that date each year.
On one such night, as Nicholas put his arm through the window to drop the bag of gold, instead of it landing on the hearth, the bag fell into a stocking that was hanging in front of the fireplace to dry.
It was found the next morning, to the delight of the family. Which, by the way, is how the custom of hanging up Christmas stockings came to be.
Shortly before Nicholas's death, which occurred on December 6th, the date of his annual visit, it was learned that he was the individual who brought so much joy to so many families.
Five hundred years later, in the 9th Century, Nicholas was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, hence the name, Saint Nicholas.
And since the celebration of Christmas came after the life of St. Nicholas, he actually preceded Christmas, as we know it today.
As the story of St. Nicholas spread, French nuns in the 12th Century began making annual night-time visits to poor families with children, leaving fruit and nuts, which these families could not afford.
The nuns made their gift-giving rounds on what became known as, "St. Nicholas Eve," December 5th. The tradition spread throughout the Old World and across the ocean to the New. Many people to this day celebrate Christmas on December 6th.
Source: SANTA'S (SURPRISING) ORIGINS, By Rev. Austin Miles, A special holiday story for ASSIST News Service
More on St. Nicholas:
The definitive 10th century history of Nicholas by Symeon the Metaphrast