Nicholas of Myra (also Nikolaus) in Lycia, Asia Minor, was a 4th century bishop and is a Christian saint. His feast day is December 6, presumably the date of his death. Among Christians, he is also known as the "Wonderworker". Several acts of kindness and miracles are attributed to him. Historical accounts often confuse him with the later Nicholas of Sion[?].
He is said to have attended the Council of Nicaea[?] as an opponent of Arianism. One writer claims that he slapped Arius in the face for his heresy. (After the council, Arianism was formally condemned , and the books of Arius[?] and his followers were burned). He is applauded by later Christian writers for keeping Myra free of Arianism. The destruction of several pagan temples is also attributed to him, among them one temple of Artemis (also known as Diana). Because the celebration of Diana's birth is on December 6, some authors have speculated that this date was deliberately chosen for Nicholas' feast day to overshadow or replace the pagan celebrations.
Nicholas is also known for coming to the defense of the falsely accused, often preventing them from being executed, and for his prayers on behalf of sailors and other travelers.
When Myra and Byzantium were overtaken by Islamic invaders, the remains of Bishop Nicholas were brought to Bari in Italy on May 9, 1087, over the objections of the Orthodox monks then caring for them. Some observers have reported seeing myrrh exude from these relics.
Saint Nikolaus or St. Nicholas is celebrated in European countries, see Saint Nicholas. His reputation for gift giving comes partly from a story of three young women who were too poor to afford a dowry for their marriages: as each reached a marriagable age, Nicholas surreptitiously threw a bag of gold into the house at night. Some versions of the legend say that the girls' father, trying to discover their benefactor, kept watch on the third occasion, but Nicholas dropped the third bag down the chimney instead. For his helping the "financially challenged", St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers; the three gold balls traditionally hung outside a pawnshop are symbolic of the three sacks of gold. People then began to suspect that he was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas.
The German-American Thomas Nast and other immigrants popularized their "Saint Nicholas" and other Christmas traditions in America. The tall skinny European St. Nicholas gradually became a fat, jolly, red cheeked old man, with a contracted version of "Saint Nicolas" as his name: Santa Claus. One theory for this unaccountable transition in appearance of St. Nicholas imagery may be the influence of Hotei; strikingly similar in nature and benevolence.