Myths, legends and lore define all great festivals and so is the case with Christmas as well. Allegorical tales, that may or may not have any factual basis, are the foundation of modern day celebrations. From the concept of exchanging gifts to decorating Christmas trees to even the great Christmas dinner, every aspect has its root in one or the other tale. And it is such that these legends add more spice to the occasion. And all these myths and legends have one dominant theme-love, family and belonging. One of the lesser known legends of Christmas is that of "The Three Purses". As in many other legends, the birth of this is attributed to the magnanimity of one central character or protagonist. In this case, he is none other than the patron saint of many Christians, the man who was also known as "the wonderworker" and "the miracle creator" because of the countless miracles that have been attributed to him, the revered Saint Nicolas.
Legends, almost always, have different versions prevalent in different places, no doubt, because they are undocumented. But different versions tend to have a common skeletal structure that remains unchanged. The "Legend of The Three Purses" is also known as the "Dowry For The Three Virgins", and is considered to be one of Saint Nicolas's most famous acts of kindness. This legend is a celebration of his generosity and love that he bore for his fellow sufferers, which is indeed the true spirit of Christmas.
According to the legend, in the town of Myra, where St. Nicolas was the Bishop, there lived a noble man who was so poor that he could afford no food or clothing. This man had three beautiful young daughters, but he couldn't get them married for obviously, he couldn't afford any dowry. Cold, hungry and destitute but honorable, the poor noble man couldn't ask others for help. Their situation came to such a state that, with no other employment or help in sight, the maidens were faced with the ugly prospect of prostitution. When St. Nicolas heard of the plight of the noble man and his daughter, he decided to help them but he knew that any form of help in public would look like charity and may be rebuffed by the noble man. So, he did the next best thing, which was to help them on the sly.
Now, how he helped the family differs from version to version. According to one popular version, St. Nicolas went to the noble man's house at night and, through a window, threw a bag of gold inside. With this the old man was able to marry off his eldest daughter. He then went the next night and threw another bag of gold in the house, with which the second daughter was married of, and the next night, he threw in another bag of gold for the youngest one. It is also said that the noble man wanted to know who their secret benefactor was so on the third night, he hid near and window. When St. Nicolas came to pitch in the gold, the noble man grabbed his cloak, and begged him not to hide himself. But St. Nicolas, embarrassed that his noble work was discovered, told him not to tell anyone as he was only doing the work of God.
The story of hanging a stocking during Christmas, some say, has a basis in this legend. It is believed that when St. Nicolas went to drop a bag of gold for the youngest daughter, he spied the noble man, hiding in wait for him. So, St. Nicolas went up to the chimney and dropped the bag inside. Now, it so happened that the youngest daughter had kept a stocking in the fire place to dry and the bag of gold fell inside it, which she found the next day.
The Legend of the Three Purse is an important aspect of the Christmas tradition. Read the complete story that gave birth to this legend.