December 25th won't be Christmas without Father Christmas, St Nicholas or Santa Claus. This charitable figure is associated worldwide with generosity. Stockings hung by the fire are symbols of the expectant children and adults waiting for gifts on Christmas Eve. However, in the hustle and bustle of the merriment of the season, we often forget the story behind the man - a story that is still today synonymous with goodwill. St Nicholas was a Bishop from the fourth century who lived in what is now known as Turkey.

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He was wealthy and kind and a patron of many all over the world.

All I want for Christmas is a dowry

All one poor man wanted for Christmas was a dowry for his daughter; three to be exact.

Once upon a time, the story goes, there was a poor man who barely had enough to survive. He had three daughters who would remain single unless he found enough money for a dowry for each girl. A dowry is an amount of money parents of the bride- to- be must pay to the bridegroom for the marriage to take place. If you are thinking that this practice only occurred in the olden days, think again. The dowry is still an essential part of many customs in some parts of the world. The dowry could be either money or goods like an animal or land.

Stockings filled with gold

Christmas stockings are colourful and often hung by the fireplace waiting for St Nick to arrive and fill them with all our wants and desires. But on this night, the poor man's daughter hung her stockings by the fireplace, out of necessity, to be dried by the fire.

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Imagine how surprised the family must have been when Nicholas one night, dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and it landed in the stocking. Now the eldest daughter could be married. This act was repeated for the other two daughters who were also able to get married.

Nicholas caught in the act

All these good acts were too much for the man who decided to try to uncover the identity of the generous person filling stockings with gifts of gold. He waited patiently by the fireplace each night until he finally caught Nicholas in the act, dropping off more gold. Nick asked the man not to reveal his identity but who could keep such a secret for long? Soon the word spread like wildfire and everyone knew who Nicholas was. Anyone who received a secret gift for there on knew it was the work of Nick.

He is a Saint

As a result of his generosity and kindness, Nicholas became a Saint. Throughout the years there were numerous stories of St Nicholas' helping and giving spirit, not only to children but to many others.

In one of the stories, he saved a group of sailors from a raging storm. But in the 16th century, stories of St Nicholas became unpopular in Europe and so to continue the tradition, some countries, like the UK used the names Father Christmas, or Old Man Christmas. In other parts of the world his is known as Pere Noel (France), Christkind (Germany and Austria) and Kris Kringle and Santa Claus in countries like Canada and the USA. St Nicholas has however, regained popularity in later years.

By whatever name we call St Nicholas, he is an integral part of the Christmas experience and represents a spirit of generosity, giving and stockings hung by the fireside.