(taken from: God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas)
Nicholas is most well known in the West as the beloved patron saint of children and gift-giving. His connection with the American character of Santa Claus is faint, but it can be traced. According to tradition, Nicholas parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.
One legend in particular illustrates his generosity: a family in his community was desperate; the father lost all of his money and had been unable to find husbands for his three daughters. The daughters were in danger of being handed over to prostitution or another form of degradation when, one night, Nicholas appeared at
their home. He tossed three bags of gold into the open window (or down the chimney in some versions) - thereby saving them from a terrible fate. This tale is probably the source of his eventual connection to the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.
Aside from the obvious disparities between Saint Nicholas and the secular Santa Claus, perhaps the most poignant difference between them can be seen in the nature of the gifts they give. While Santa has his bundle of toys, the gift that Saint Nicholas gives is nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. The life of Saint Nicholas is an example of faith made flesh in actions of true charity.
SOURCE: Paraclete Press
Other articles of interest:
The Real St Nicholas - How Did a Cantankerous But Holy Bishop Become Jolly Ole St. Nick?
Happy Feast of St. Nicholas @ Are We There Yet?
and . . . . LAGNIAPPE!
St. Nicholas - A Concord Pastor Comments
St. Nicholas Punched Heretics in the Face - Taylor Marshall @ Canterbury Tales
St. Nicholas Day - Scott Hahn
Saint Nicholas @ Vultus Chriti