According to its pastor, Fr. Simeon Johnson, the church received its name after a vision experienced by Tlingit elders. The son of a leader in the community had journeyed to San Francisco where he was to be baptized. While he was gone, several people had dreams of a bearded, balding, white-haired man.

When the young man returned, he brought an image of St. Nicholas. After the elders recognized it as the one from the dreams, the church received its name and more than 700 Tlingit people were baptized there.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in North Pole, Alaska, received its name with help from the Catholic Church Extension Society, which helped build the church. The town, which bears the name of the traditional home of Santa Claus, attracts tourists, and many photograph the church and its statue of Santa kneeling and praying at the feet of the infant Jesus.

St. Nicholas of Myra was born to wealthy parents in the Greek colony of Patara in A.D. 270. His parents died while he was a child, leaving him a considerable fortune that he later used to support the needy, sick and suffering of Myra, part of modern-day Turkey. There, he was appointed bishop while still a young man.

He suffered persecution and imprisonment under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and is said to have attended the Council of Nicea in 325. St. Nicholas died in Myra in 346. In 1087, in advance of Muslim invaders, sailors spirited away the saint’s remains to Bari, Italy, where they are today. For this reason, the saint is also known as Nicholas of Bari.

The historical facts of the life of St. Nicholas are both scanty and disputed, but the many legends and folk tales associated with him are numerous. The most widely known story has the good saint dropping bags of gold through an open window to an impoverished father of three daughters to pay for their dowries, thus preventing their being sold into a life of prostitution.

Variations have the money dropping into shoes or stockings drying near the fireplace, resulting in the characterization of Santa Claus as the quintessential gift-giver.
Stories of the saint’s aid to children and the close proximity of his feast day (Dec. 6) to Christmas links the man to the tradition of gift-giving. In many countries, Dec. 6 is traditionally one of exchanging presents. This custom was brought to the United States by Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam who painted the saint as a Nordic magician – Sinter Klaas.