The “nice” story of the dowries
First, the story that, probably more than any other, connects the man to the myth.
There was once a poor man who had fallen on hard times. He had three daughters who were of an age to be married, and in those days a young woman's family had to have something of value (what’s called a dowry) to offer a prospective groom. Bigger the dowry, better the chance a young lady would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. So this poor man's daughters, without dowries, were destined for slavery—or worse.
Word of this reaches Nicholas. The bishop secretly goes to the house at night and tosses a bag of gold into the house. It sails through an open window and lands in a stocking that was hanging in front of the fire to dry. The family is overjoyed to find the gold in the morning and soon the first daughter is wed.
Not long after, another bag of gold again appears mysteriously, and the second daughter is married. The father, now eager to find out who his benefactor is, keeps watch during the night. A third bag of gold lands inside the house and the father leaps up and snags the fleeing donor. He says, "Ah, Nicholas, it is you! You’ve saved my daughters from certain disaster!"
But Nicholas is embarrassed and doesn’t want to be exposed. He begs the man to keep his identity secret and says, "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance."
The “naughty” story of St. Nick & Arius
The second story paints a somewhat different picture of jolly old St. Nick, but which is no less a part of his being faithful.
Nicholas was a bishop in the 4th century, at the time the Council of Nicea was held, and he was among the attendees. The impetus for the Council was the teachings of one Arius, a priest from Alexandria. Arius denied the divinity of Jesus, saying that although he was the highest of creatures, Jesus was nevertheless merely that: a creature. He summed up his teaching with a little jingle: “There was a time when he (i.e., Jesus) was not.”
The Council of Nicea was convened to give Arius a hearing and for the bishops to formulate their position on the matter. Arius was vigorously arguing his position, and the bishops listened on. After awhile, though, Nicholas became agitated as he heard this man tearing down the divinity of Christ. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer: he got up out of his seat, marched across the room, and slugged Arius in the face!
After cooling down, Nicholas would repent and ask for forgiveness for his assault—though not for his conviction of faith. He was ultimately forgiven and restored. The Council would conclude with the divinity of Christ being affirmed, and our Nicene Creed is the result.
Nice & Nicean
Author Gene Veith suggests, (mostly) tongue-in-cheek, that since we have adopted St. Nick’s practice of giving gifts perhaps we should also consider giving a gentle "holy slap” to supposed Christians who defame the name of Christ.
Of course, we by no means want to encourage physical confrontations, and Nicholas himself acknowledged his error. But in his firm conviction of faith St. Nick nevertheless provides us with an example of being not only nice but also, if necessary, naughty for the sake of Christ—or should we say, Nicean?