Saint Nicholas, The Christmas Saint

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Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the stories about Saint Nicholas. Who was this man and why do we remember him?

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3  

It was the night before Christmas,
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

Follow along on YouTube
Voice 1  

That is the beginning of a famous Christmas poem. It is called A Visit from Saint Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore. The poem describes a house on the night before Christmas. Nothing is moving, not even a small brown mouse. The family has hung stockings by the fire. Usually, they wear these stockings on their feet. But tonight, they hope that Saint Nicholas will come and fill their stockings with sweet treats and gifts. The poem continues, and tells a story about a father who sees Saint Nicholas bring these gifts to his house during the night.

book cover to Twas the Night Before Christmas
Voice 2  

Many countries around the world have stories about Saint Nicholas. The stories are based on a real man called Saint Nicholas. Over time the details of the stories change. They are no longer real stories from history. But the stories explain different Christmas traditions. Today’s Spotlight is on the many Christmas stories about Saint Nicholas.

Voice 1  

The real Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in a village near Myra, which is now in Turkey. His parents were very devoted followers of Jesus. And they raised their son to be a follower of Jesus too. When Nicholas was young, his parents died from disease. But he remembered the values his parents taught him.

Voice 2  

As an adult, Nicholas remembered one particular teaching from the Christian Bible. It was to care for poor and sick people. In the Christian Bible, Jesus tells his followers to sell their things and give to the poor. Nicholas could not forget these words. He gave away lots of his money to the poor. And he helped people who were sick or suffering. There are many stories about his secret giving. It is not clear if these stories are true. But they show how much he cared for poor people. Nick Page tells one version of one of the most famous stories.

Nick Page

A father had three daughters. At that time, there was a custom for marriage – a dowry. The father offered a gift to the man who wanted to marry his daughter. Without this gift, it was not likely for a woman to find a husband. But the father was very poor. He did not have enough money for this custom. So he planned to sell one of his daughters. He thought if he did this he would be able to care for his other daughters.

Nicholas heard about the father’s problem. He went to the father’s house the night before the daughter was going to be sold. The daughter had washed her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. Nicholas threw a small bag of gold into one of the stockings. Then he left. In the morning, the man discovered the gold. Now he did not need to sell his daughter. Instead he was able to find a husband for his daughter. In a year, it was time for his next daughter to be married. But the man was still poor. Once again, Nicholas came during the night. And again, he threw a bag of gold into a stocking.

The Life & Miracles of Saint Nicholas
Artist: Alexander Boguslawski

Finally, when it was time for his third daughter to marry, the man waited. He wanted to know who was giving the gifts. For a final time, a bag of gold came through his window. This time, the man was ready. He ran out of the house and the person he saw was Nicholas. But Nicholas demanded that the man keep this knowledge a secret.

Voice 1  

Over time, Nicholas became well-known for his kind, generous giving. People also knew that he was a follower of Jesus. He even became a bishop — a religious leader — of the city of Myra. As a bishop, Nicholas continued to serve poor, sick, and suffering people. Years after he died, people wanted to honor him for devoting his life to God and caring for people. So they named him a saint.

Voice 2

Many countries have created stories about Saint Nicholas as a secret gift-giver. Often the stories are for children. Saint Nicholas considers how children have behaved all year. Then, he gives them good gifts for good behaviour and bad gifts for bad behaviour. These stories explain Christmas traditions. For example, in many European countries, children leave their shoes out for Saint Nicholas. They hope he will fill their shoes with treats.

Voice 1  

There are also other stories about Saint Nicholas. In Greece, he is not a secret gift-giver. Instead, he is the saint who protects sailors. It is said that in bad weather, sailors would pray to Saint Nicholas. Then he would appear to them like a dream. He would guide them to safety and could make the storms go away.

Voice 2  

It is not clear exactly when Saint Nicholas died. But many people believe that he died in the year 343 A.D. He was then buried in the city of Myra. Because of his goodness, many religious people travelled to the place he was buried. But during the 11th century, there was war in the area of Myra. A group of sailors used the war as a chance to steal the bones of Saint Nicholas. They brought them to Bari, Italy. That is where Saint Nicholas is buried today.

Voice 1  

If you believe the stories, Saint Nicholas is the Christmas saint. In many European countries, he is called Saint Nicholas. In Italy he is San Nicola. In the Netherlands they call him Sinterklaas. In the United States, he is Santa Claus. And in Britain, he is Father Christmas. He has many names, but the idea of the person is the same. He is a gift-giver who brings good cheer at Christmas time.

Erik Bro at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Voice 2  

But Saint Nicholas believed in a very different kind of Christmas gift. Christians like Saint Nicholas celebrate Christmas as a time to remember Jesus’ birth. Christians believe that Jesus was a gift to the world. They believe he was both God and human. And because Jesus lived as a human, he knows what it is like to have pain and hurt, joys and happiness. Christians believe that in Jesus’ birth, God comes to earth. God brought the gift of hope to a broken world.

Voice 1  

Does your culture celebrate a Christmas Saint? What stories have you heard about Saint Nicholas? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Courtney Schutt. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Saint Nicholas, The Christmas Saint’.

Voice 1  

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

Click here to see our full Christmas playlist on YouTube


Do you have stories about a gift giver in your country? Who is that gift giver?

Join the discussion

  • I’m from Ukraine. When I was a child a gift giver was Дед Мороз. Nowadays my grandchildren recieve gifts and sweets from Saint Nicholas.

  • Thank your so much for your topic. Last night, during taking my kids out to Christmas, i told them about this story and reindeers. we had a great time with useful information from your broadcasting. Sincerely. From Vietnam.

  • I am from VietNam. In my village, the Christmas has not been known by many people. But, nowadays, the children are very like Saint Nicholas. Thanks for the story!

    • Thanks for this interesting story. It helps me love Christmas more. And I’m looking forward to Christmas this year.

  • Without a doubt, Santa Claus is a familiar face in our house. The saint Nicolas served as his archetype, and he was a one-of-a-kind person. Many works of literature depicted him as having
    superhuman abilities, such as the ability to fly on a reindeer carriage and deliver presents on Christmas Day. These days, on Christmas Day, many people dress up in scarlet costumes and pretend to be Santa Claus in order to distribute gifts to children. All of the children have grown up seeing Santa Laus on Christmas Day warm and complete, this makes for a wonderful Christmas night. Christmas Eve night is a time when I often go out with a friend to look around town or to drink a hot coffee, and I return home before 9pm to talk with my family in front of the flickering flame.

  • I like the audio, it was pretty helpful and enjoy reading and listening it at the same time, so in may country we don’t celebrat a christmas saint,because it’s againsts our religion and customs, but in Algeria where i live ,-located in the north of Africa – we called “Papa noël” he who give out the gifts to children at night when they are sleeping and put them in nearby thier beds that was a just idea which is we geuss about.

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