IT WAS quite a sight to see the two seated at the dining room in a business-like fashion—my youngest brother with a smug and inquisitive look, and my mother seemingly taken aback and flabbergasted by his question: “Is Santa Claus real?”

I’ve always lauded how my parents brought us up but this one was tricky and boy, was I waiting to see how they’d break it to my hopeful sibling. Alas, once the situation was explained to my father, he dogded the bullet and played it safe by telling my brother that believing in something does not require proof.

But my wide-eyed sibling, who had always been an old soul, was, in his own words, “becoming skeptical.” I felt the urge to berate my parents for letting the charade go on this long, but at 20 years of age, I had nothing to complain about. Every year (until this year, that is), our Christmas stockings were always filled with gifts during the “12 days of Christmas,” for which, in front of my brother, I had Santa to thank.

I had to give it to my parents—being Santa to four children for 12 days every year was very costly and, come to think of it, somewhat loony.

But now that my brother has come to terms with the Santa predicament, I decided to make this silly experience an educational one. At least, I was able to tell him that Santa Claus was actually inspired by a Catholic saint, and in the spirit of giving, allow me to share to you the less-known story of St. Nicholas of Myra.

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Also known as St. Nicholas of Bari, different accounts of his life confirm that he was a bishop in the city of Myra in Asia Minor, which is now known as Turkey. Despite being born into a rich family, the values imbibed in him by his devout Catholic parents made him follow God’s call to sell what he owned and give alms for the poor. Under Roman emperor Diocletian, he was persecuted for spreading the faith, but during the reign of Constantine, he was able to make Christianity flourish across Europe.

Several stories of generosity and miraculous events deemed St. Nicholas, patron saint of children. Among these is the story of the pauper and his three daughters. With no money to spare for dowry, he was decided on pushing his children to enter prostitution. When St. Nicholas heard the news, he anonymously gave three bags of gold for each girl. A certain account explained that the third daughter was drying her newly-washed stocking by the fireplace, which then caught the bag of gold when St. Nicholas threw it down the chimney in an attempt to stay unknown.

Another tale tells of three students lured and murdered by a butcher desperate to sell meat during a famine. When St. Nicholas passed by the butcher, he was said to have had visions of the crime committed and prayed hard until the three younglings were brought back to life. He also dedicated his life to liberating the innocent and guiding those troubled at sea, among others.

Although the date is unclear, he was said to have died on December 6 or 19 in Myra. His remains were kept in the episcopal city and were soon transferred to Bari in Italy. The remains were soon noticed for the oil-like, rose water-scented substance flowing from the supposedly lifeless body. The substance is said to be medical myrrh or manna, which to date could be extracted annually from the remains. Notably, myrrh is known as one of the gifts bestowed by the kings or three wise men when Christ was born.

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Combing all these details with St. Nicholas’ stories makes it easier to pinpoint how his role during Christmas was defined. Modern, western images of Santa Claus were concretized by the poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” or “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore in the 1820s.

The image of Santa Claus is tightly knit with the collective Christmas-time consciousness of the people.

Santa Claus or no Santa Claus, I’d still go back to what my father imparted to my brother about belief, as Christmas is the time we celebrate our Savior’s birth and the spirit of generosity…and in the greater scheme of things, it will always boil down to faith.

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