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Catholic Activity: Life and Legend of St. Nicholas

The feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 is one of the most popular feast days in Europe. Included is the Life and Legend of this saint for children.

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Very few historical facts are known about the saint. He was bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. Emperor Diocletian cast him into exile and prison during the persecution at the beginning of the fourth century. Released by Constantine the Great, he returned to his city. There he died about 350. Italian merchants brought his body from Myra to Bari in Italy (in 1807), where his relics are still preserved. The reports of numerous miracles ascribed to the saint before and after death, are based on a long tradition.

By the year 1200 St. Nicholas had captured the hearts of all European nations. Many churches, towns, provinces and countries venerate him as their patron saint. Merchants, bankers, seamen and prisoners made him their patron, too. But his main patronage is the one over little children. All these patronages are derived from details of his inspiring legend which might be told to the children as follows (The following "legend of St. Nicholas" was taken by the author from his Christmas Book, with permission of the Publishers, Harcourt Brace & Co., New York):

St. Nicholas was born of a rich family in the city of Parara in Asia Minor. When he was very little he lost his mother and father by death and had to lead a lonely life as an orphan. After he had grown to young manhood he decided to devote his life entirely to the service of God and to good works for his fellowmen. Obeying the words of Christ, he distributed all his possessions to the poor, the sick and the suffering. Quite often he helped poor children by putting gifts of money through their windows during the night, when nobody could see him.

His love for Christ inspired him to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to visit the places where our Lord had lived and died for us. On this trip a terrible storm arose, but Nicholas miraculously saved the already sinking ship by his prayers to God. That is the reason he is now venerated as patron saint by many brave sailors all over the world.

When he returned from his pilgrimage, the bishops of Asia Minor selected him as successor to the bishop of Myra who had just died. The whole town rejoiced when they heard this good news, Nicholas received the holy orders modestly and devoutly. As bishop he led a very holy life. He prayed and fasted to convert the sinners with the grace of God; he preached to the people and instructed the children in the faith. He also practiced a boundless love for his fellow-men by great kindness and charity. Having been an orphan himself, he now became the beloved father of orphans. After teaching the children he would often delight them with many little gifts.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christians, St. Nicholas was arrested, taken away from his home by the pagan soldiers, and thrown into a prison. He suffered the hardships of hunger, thirst, loneliness, and chains. He wanted to die as a martyr of Christ. But when Emperor Diocletian left his throne and the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, ruled the Roman lands, all Christians who suffered in prison because of their faith, were released. Among them was St. Nicholas. He returned to Myra where he lived for many more years, a kind father to all his dear people, especially to the poor and the children.

One day he became very ill and soon realized it was time for him to go to heaven. When he died, his soul was met by angels who conducted him to the throne of God with great joy and glory. The whole city mourned his passing, most of all the little children. But they knew that the saint still loved them from heaven, and so they began to pray to him. Their prayers were answered by thousands of favors, small ones and great ones. In this way the good saint showed us that he did not forget the children and that he still loves them and helps them if only they ask him. That's why little boys an

Activity Source: Year of the Lord in the Christian Home, The (reprinted as Religious Customs in the Family) by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., The Liturgical Press; reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, 1964

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