Who was the Real Saint Nicholas?

Saint Nicholas painting

While we celebrate Advent, we should reflect on why we celebrate the way we do. Our first priority is celebrating the birth of Jesus and watching and waiting for His second coming. Most families also recognize the tradition of Santa Claus, a jolly round man with interesting origins. We wanted to take a deeper look into Saint Nicholas, the saint who brought us so many traditions for Christmas that we still celebrate today.

Early Life

Saint Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Myra, grew up not wanting for anything. His wealthy parents raised him as a devout Christian. Unfortunately, they both died in an epidemic when he was young. Young Nicholas used his inheritance to assist the needy, sick and suffering. He became well-known as a friend and protector to everyone in need. He would go on to become one of the most popular saints in the East and the West.

Saint Nicholas Candy


In Saint Nicholas’s life, the line between fact and legend is blurred. Saint Nicholas protected anyone in need, especially orphans, poor families, sailors and prisoners. During the persecution of Christians in the Roman empire, Saint Nicholas was imprisoned for defending religious doctrine, later to be released under Constantine the Great. The reputation that followed Saint Nicholas gave way to legends that he performed miracles, a popular subject of medieval art and liturgical plays. 


One of the most popular legends of Saint Nicholas involves a family in need. In this story, he anonymously gave dowries to three young women whose father could not afford to marry them off, which would have led to a life of destitution. Another legend is that, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he prayed during a storm that would have capsized the ship, causing the storm to let up and allowing the voyage to continue. This story helped secure his place as the patron saint of sailors. 

Santa Claus

Becoming Santa Claus

The first step to seeing how Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus is looking to the legends. Much of Europe celebrated Saint Nicholas as a benevolent gift giver. However, the legend that led to our Christmas traditions is the one of the poor man’s daughters. When Saint Nicholas threw gold into the house, it is said to have landed in stockings or shoes, which is the origin of the Christmas stocking. 

During the Reformation, the Netherlands began to celebrate St. Nicholas, calling him Sinterklass. They later brought this tradition to the U.S. The English-speaking country adapted “Sinterklass” to “Santa Claus.” In the 19th century, Saint Nicholas fully transformed into Santa Claus through written works and fables. 

At St. Charles Borromeo, an Orlando Catholic school, we consider learning about all of the saints to be an essential part of a faith-based education. Our staff is committed to proclaiming the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ. We believe in teaching the whole child and want students to love learning, helping them grow into well-rounded, contributing members of society. Learn more about us by contacting us here.

Meet St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo

Every year on November 4th, we get together to celebrate the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. The namesake of our school, St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of bishops, catechists and other spiritual leaders. As one of the most important bishops of all time, he continues to inspire our mission to this day. At St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, students from Pre-K to 8th grade learn how to live as St. Charles Borromeo did — with faith leading the way.

Early Life of St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo grew up in an aristocratic, wealthy family and the third of six children. At the age of 12, St. Charles Borromeo decided to dedicate his life to serving the church. The only money that interested him was what he needed for education and his work with the church. As a young adult, he worked as secretary of state for his uncle, Cardinal Gian Angelo de’Medici, also known as Pope Pius IV. St. Charles Borromeo helped draft a catechism and contributed to the reform of liturgical books and music, then became a bishop at the age of 25. 

St. Charles Borromeo communion

Accomplishments of St. Charles Borromeo

After becoming a bishop at such a young age, St. Charles Borromeo went on to become the first resident archbishop of Milan in 80 years. He founded a literary academy, colleges and other schools along the way. He gave most of his money to the poor, and he helped nurse and feed families during the plague. Along with helping his fellow man, he reorganized the diocese, established seminaries, enforced standards of morality and founded a confraternity to teach Christian doctrine to children. This was not popular with everyone, however, and an attempt was made on his life. 

Relatively unscathed after the assassination attempt, St. Charles Borromeo went on to work in Switzerland to help combat witchcraft and other heretical teachings. He died in 1584 at the age of 46, and Pope John XXIII dedicated a feast to him later that year. In 1610, St. Charles Borromeo officially became a saint. 

Celebrate the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo

There are several ways to celebrate the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. The most popular, of course, is to eat. In honor of the patron saint of Italy, it is customary to eat an Italian meal. Cook together as a family, allowing your child to participate in making the food to honor this saint. Tell his story to your children so they can appreciate the rich background of their school. 

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, located in the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, is more than just a place to learn; it’s a community. Our staff is committed to proclaiming the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ. We believe in teaching the whole child and want students to love learning, helping them grow into well-rounded, contributing members of society. Learn more about us by contacting us here.