He died in the year 343, but legends about Nicholas, a bishop in southwest Turkey, grew in the telling not long after his death.
One of these stories was that he saved three sisters from having to sell themselves as prostitutes by climbing on to the roof of their cottage and dropping gold coins down their chimney. The coins were caught in the stockings that were hanging by the fireplace to dry.
He was declared a saint and became popular in various parts of Europe, usually (although not in the image reproduced here) pictured in his red bishop’s robes and sporting a white beard.
He was particularly popular in the Netherlands, his name in Dutch being Sinter Klaas. When Dutch settlers reached the New World and founded New Amsterdam – later re-founded as New York – Sinter Klaas and all the stories about him travelled with them.
The rest – as they say – is history!