They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and for the most part, I believe that is true.

But the results of some good deeds have a tendency to hang around longer than others. Take for example, the actions of a certain Christian bishop who lived during the Fourth Century in the city of Myra in Lycia; what is now the modern-day city of Demre in Turkey.

Like many historical figures from that long ago, there are many deeds attributed to the bishop, which have added to his legend through the centuries. But it is his most famous deed that has caused his named to echo down through the ages, to this day.

As I said, our bishop lived in Lycia, and in those days the early Christian church was evolving into a powerful force in various communities throughout the Roman Empire. Part of the process was caring and administering to the various needs of the people in those communities.

The bishop got word of three sisters in Lycia who were in very dire straits. In those days, a woman could not get married if she did not possess sufficient money to present to her new husband as a dowry. The story goes that the sisters in question were from a poor family, and thus none had the necessary dowry to allow them to marry.

One of the sisters intended deal with the situation in a selfless, yet very dramatic fashion. One account says she was going to sell herself into slavery, while another said she was going to become a prostitute. But all versions agree that when the bishop heard of the women's plight, he took action which solved the problem.

Although the tale never mentions it specifically, it is a good assumption the bishop "passed the hat" among some of the wealthier members of his congregation, and was able to raise the money for the dowry of the oldest sister - in those days, the eldest sibling always got married first. Late one night, the bishop went to the house where the sisters were living and threw a bag containing the money through an open window. This allowed the oldest sister to get married, and when it came time for the second sister to tie the knot, the bishop repeated the generous act. But when it came time for the third sister to take her wedding vows, according to the story, her father stayed up nights, and caught the bishop in the act. He thanked the bishop profusely for his great act of charity; and that's how the story entered the stuff of legends.

The bishop was later canonized by the early Christian Church, and as so often happens to a saint who lived so long ago, he became associated with various groups of people from all walks life. He is the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, ships, harbors, and interestingly enough, pawn brokers. Because of the story of the three bags of gold, many pawn brokers hang a sign with three golden balls on their shops, advertising their business.

In addition, our bishop also became the patron saint of another group of people - the most important of all.


The bishop's feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, and on that day many Christian groups throughout history have given gifts of food and clothing to the needy in his name. The practice of gift giving eventually extended to children and became an extremely popular one.

Due to the fact that the bishop's feast day was so close to Christmas, he became more and more associated with the holiday, through the centuries.

I'll bet your getting ahead of me at this point, so I'll finish up quickly.

And what was the name of this bishop whose name and deeds continue to echo down through the ages?


Saint Nicholas.

Or, depending upon what part of the world your from - Father Christmas, Samichlaus, Sinterklaas.

Colloquially we call him, Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

C.J. Marshall is a writer and columnist for The Daily Review. He can be reached at