The young man quietly hurried along the road. Stopping, he approached a house and hurled a large object through one of the open windows. Then he quickly disappeared. Who was he and what was he up to?
The young man's name was Nicholas, and the owner of the house he had visited that night was a poor man, who was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution to earn enough money to survive. Nicholas' parents had died, leaving him a large fortune, which he used to help people in need. The object he had thrown was a bag of money to save the young women from being sold.
Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in Patara - a city in the Greek country of Lycia - and raised by an uncle (a bishop) after his parents' deaths. The uncle, also named Nicholas, probably influenced the young man to eventually become a bishop himself. The younger Nicholas was known for his kindness and generosity. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. He also was a devout Christian, reportedly suffering persecution and imprisonment under Roman emperors Maximian and Diocletian. When Constantine became emperor, Nicholas - with many others - was set free.
After his death, he became known as Saint Nicholas. The stories told about him became more and more embellished. Some versions of the story of his secret generosity had him tossing the money into some stockings hung up to dry, or down the chimney. That is how the hanging up of stockings, and "Santa coming down the chimney" started. At Christmastime in Holland, in the 1800's, a man would dress in bishop's robes and a long, white beard to visit houses and give children gifts. Americans later adopted the tradition, and "Sinterklass" (from Dutch) became "Santa Claus".