Six Things About Santa Claus That You Probably Didn’t Know

When my children were small I taught them the real story of Santa Claus, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the make-believe Santa experience too. We wrote him letters, visited him at the mall, and left cookies and milk out along with our stockings. We even tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve journey on the NORAD website each year. It was great fun!

Unfortunately, our modern, consumer-minded culture has reduced Santa Claus to nothing more than that – nothing more than a reindeer-driving, list-checking, wish-granting elf whose association with the Christian faith is vague at best. But the truth is that Santa is more than just a prominent figure of the holiday season. Santa Claus is, in fact, Saint Nicholas, a historical figure whose real-life story is far more interesting than anything created for holiday movies, TV shows and carols.

Here are six fun facts about Santa to add a little balance to his story and to see the real connection between his life and the celebration of Christmas.

  • He was not actually a jolly old elf, (as Clement C. Moore would have us believe) but a human child born to wealthy Christian parents in the 3rd Century. His parents died when Nicholas was very young, and he was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara, who later ordained Nicholas a priest and later the Bishop of Myra.
  • He is one of the most popular saints of all time. Saint Nicholas is portrayed in art more than any other saint except The Blessed Virgin Mary.


  • Nicholas saved three young girls from a life of prostitution. It’s not exactly the sort of charming Christmas tale we associate with Santa. There won’t be any Hallmark movies following this plot line. But this story does show Saint Nicholas’s generosity and goodness. Nicholas used his inheritance from his parents to help the needy. When a poor man in Myra could not afford a dowry for his daughters, it looked like the girls would be forced into a life of prostitution. To save them, Nicholas threw sacks of gold into the window of the poor family’s home, providing the daughter’s with the money they needed for their dowries. The bags of gold are said to have landed in stockings or shoes. This is where some cultures get the tradition of putting shoes out on December 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas’s Feast Day. Children all over the world wake up on December 6 to find their shoes filled with chocolate coins. It’s probably also why we hang stockings on Christmas Eve.
This is how we celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Our Christmas Eve stockings are much more charming.
This is how we celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Our Christmas Eve stockings are much more charming.
  • Saint Nicholas spent time in prison. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (modern day Turkey) during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians. Like many bishops and priests, Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his faith in Christ. Eventually, Nicholas was released when Constantine rose to power.
  • Santa once punched a guy in the face. Here again we depart from the notion that Santa is all jolliness and good cheer.  In 325 AD, the Emperor Constantine convened the First Nicene Council where the heresy of Arianism (basically the denial of Christ’s full divinity) was addressed. The story goes that while Arius, the father of Arianism, was speaking to the council about the lesser nature of Jesus Christ, Nicholas became so agitated and so enraged that he crossed the room and socked Arius right in the face. Some scholars question the validity of this story, but I like to think it’s true.
  • Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of… bakers, brewers, brides, children, sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers, and of course, prostitutes.

Much more than just a jolly figure, Saint Nicholas is an important saint and a beautiful example of God’s love and goodness. May he help us always remember the true meaning of Santa Claus and of Christmas.

Saint Nicholas, pray for us!

5 thoughts on “Six Things About Santa Claus That You Probably Didn’t Know

  1. I love this! St Nicholas is such an interesting guy, it really is to bad that we only focus on Santa, who’s kind of boring in comparison. And thanks for that video- we’re going to watch it later!

  2. Excellent post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this
    subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

    1. Thanks, Andy! Maybe I will someday. I don’t blog much anymore. I mostly write for other publications, but I would love to learn more about Santa!

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