Far away and long ago, a father and his three daughters lived in a big house with servants, fine furnishings and plentiful food.
But the father lost his health and then his wealth. The servants were sent away, and the three daughters had to do the cleaning and cooking and mending. The house was sold, and so were their belongings. They had to live in one rented room, and, for the first time in their lives, they were hungry. The father told his daughters, “I wish you could marry strong young men who would be able to care for you better than I can, but I haven’t the money to pay for weddings.”
The girls had to find food and fuel wherever they could for free. The three girls went out into the winter wood. The berries had been peck-picked away by birds, so there was no food to take. All the girls found were some sticks on the ground, which they bound into bundles and carried home.
“At least we can have a fire and be warm,” they said.
They lit the fire, and they hung their wet stockings to dry. They went to bed, empty of food and almost empty of hope.
But a kind man called Nicholas had seen the girls searching the woods, and he knew of their father’s troubles. Nicholas wanted to help, but he was shy and he was modest, so he decided to help them in secret.
In the still darkness of mid-winter night, Nicholas came to their home, quietly carrying a present of gold. He pushed at their door, but it was locked. So Nicholas climbed up the house, and he tipped his present of gold into the house ……to fall spinning, spilling down the dark to chink and scatter and glint on the hearth below. Some of the coins landed softly into the girls’ hanging stockings.
In the morning the girls tried to pull on their stockings, and they found gold in the toes! They found gold on the floor! They wondered where in the world that gold could have come from.
“It’s magic!” they said.
The present of gold paid for the oldest daughter to marry into a comfortable home.
The following mid-winter, Nicholas came again in the night to pour a present of gold into the home where the father and two daughters lived. So the second daughter was married.
And the following mid-winter Nicholas came again with gold.
But this time the father wasn’t asleep. He wanted to know how those presents of gold appeared in his daughters’ stockings each year, so he stayed awake to wait and watch.
And he caught Nicholas!
He thanked Nicholas for saving his daughters from hunger.
“Shush!” said Nicholas. “Don’t tell a soul. This is our secret.”
But it was such a wonderful secret that it soon burst out of the father! At the wedding party for his youngest daughter the proud old father told the crowd how Nicholas had come and dropped mid-winter presents down the chimney for his girls.
Every wedding guest took that story home with them. They told friends and they told family … who all told their friends and families too. The story spread out through the world and on through time. It still lives so strongly, seventeen hundred years later, that it magically lives again every mid-winter night when Nicholas comes to me and he comes to you to put presents down our chimneys and into our stockings.
But these days we call him Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, just Santa, or Father Christmas.
Happy mid-winter's day (and night!).