St. Nicholas is a Christian saint who is one source for the idea of Santa Claus. According to the story, Nicolas was born in the Roman Empire (in modern Turkey) about 270 AD. This was a time when a lot of people were first becoming Christians. Nicolas’ parents were both Christians, but they died in an epidemic (possibly smallpox) when Nicolas was a kid. Nicolas’ uncle, who was a bishop, took care of him, and when Nicholas grew up he became a priest and was tonsured. After he was older, Nicholas also became a bishop. Despite the severe persecution of Christians which must have threatened Nicholas when he was in his thirties, his life was otherwise uneventful, and he died at 73 in 343 AD.
After Nicholas died, though, people began to tell a lot of stories about his secret gifts to deserving people. The most famous of these stories tells how a poor man had three daughters, but the daughters couldn’t get married because they had no dowries. It looked like their father might have to sell them to be slaves. When young Bishop Nicholas heard about this, he went secretly in the night and threw three bags full of gold coins in the window, one for each daughter, so the daughters would have enough money to get married.