Gospel: Mt 18:12-14
What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray. It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish.
“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” according to a well-known proverb. Likewise, if a given saint’s memory is surrounded by beautiful legends about the saint’s holiness, it seems reasonable to think that at least some of these legends have a basis in reality.
About today’s saint, we have very few hard facts but plenty of beautiful legends. In terms of facts, we only know that Nicholas was bishop of Mira, on the southern coast of Turkey during the first half of the fourth century. Legends of his wonderful generosity made him the “Santa Claus” of recent centuries.
One legend about his great charity goes like this. A poor man had three daughters of marriageable age but could not provide them with dowries. Our good Nicholas, having heard of this, managed on three separate nights to toss a bag of gold coins through the window of the poor man’s house, thus enabling him to marry off his three daughters. Over time this particular legend was transformed into a tradition of gift giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twisting of the tongue, Santa Claus, who is portrayed to young children as bringing them gifts at Christmas time.