Around 1,700 years ago, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, there lived a community of Greek Christians in Myra of Lycia.
Among them lived a poor widower with three daughters. This man was deeply troubled because his daughters were coming of age, but he lacked the money to pay their dowry. Without it they could not get married, and if they remained unmarried it was likely that when he died his daughters would have no alternative to prostitution.
One day, his eldest daughter proposed a solution to his dilemma. She would sell herself into slavery to pay the dowry for her younger sisters. The father was grieved and tried to dissuade her, but she resolved that this would be her final night in his household. The next day she would become a slave.
Neither the father nor daughter realized that their conversation was overheard by Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra who had come to visit them. When he heard the girl's declaration, Nicholas was deeply moved by her sacrifice. He went away, but returned that night after the family had gone to sleep. The girls' shoes were lined up outside the front door, and Bishop Nicholas placed three bags of coins into the girls' shoes, enough to provide them with a generous dowry.
It is because of this legend that we hang stockings on our mantles at Christmas time, and that little children in many European countries find chocolate in their shoes on December 6th (traditionally St. Nicholas' birthday). His story is meant to remind us to be generous and compassionate, and that one kind act can drastically change somebody's life for good.
We are letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.