St. Nicholas Day
This coming Tuesday is St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.
Do you celebrate this holiday in your home? In many parts of the world, people do. Especially children. We have our own, grown-up version of this holiday tradition for this day in our home, which I’ll share with you below.
The religious figure of St. Nicholas comes to us from 4th century Greece. He was the Bishop of Myra, which is now part of modern-day Turkey. (How that happened is a much longer story for another day.) It will probably nor surprise you that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. He is also the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants, broadcasters, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, pharmacists, archers, pawnbrokers…and prostitutes. (Everyone needs someone looking out for them, but we’re gonna just ignore that last one and move right on with today’s story.)
The gift-giving part of St. Nicholas’s biography stems from lots of stories and legends of his kindness to his neighbors. In most cases, he leaves behind a small bag of gold coins (much like the chocolate ones you see in the shoes shown above) to help a neighbor in a financial difficulty. Sometimes these gift bags are tossed through and open window or down a chimney overnight, including one instance where the chimney toss landed the bag into a pair of freshly washed stocking drying by the fire… Sound familiar?
Most importantly, the gifts were anonymous, because so no one ever saw them actually delivered. They just appeared, as if by magic, to make someone’s life better. The selflessness of the giver is part of the greater message to give help and happiness to others where you are able. This is still a rather relevant humanitarian message for today’s world, regardless of any more specific religious beliefs.
Most countries of Europe celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is always on his feast day on the religious calendar, December 6th. In many places, St. Nicholas looks like an early step in the evolution of America’s Santa Claus image, half way between the religious bishop portraits and the jolly old elf with reindeer of C. Clement Moore fame.
One of the most common ways to celebrate St. Nicholas Day is for children to leave out their shoes, outside their bedroom or outside their house, as they go to bed on the evening of December 5th. St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Père Noël, or whatever his name in each country, will stop by and leave little gifts and sweets in the shoes to be discovered in the morning.
It is treated as an opportunity for children to remember how nice it is to get a thoughtful gift and to treat others with kindness and well-mannered behavior. I can imagine that in centuries past, as cold, hard winters beat at the doors in rural communities, kindness and concern for others was an important value to instill in children. Still not a bad lesson for today.
I spent several years in Germany as a child and because my parents believed in embracing the other cultures we were lucky to live in, December 6th became a part of our yearly celebrations. As luck would have it, my husband is descended from German American immigrants, so we have kept the tradition going.
We don’t have any children yet, but we have evolved the tradition for now to be a small gift to each other with a Christmas theme. This under-$20 gift can be anything to put us in the holiday spirit. Over the past years, they have included books, music, movies, seasonal treats, Christmas ornaments, holiday decor and charitable donations. It is amazing how a little thoughtfulness can help you be mindful of opportunities to help others when they present themselves. Regardless of where in the world we may celebrate Christmas, giving to others is the best gift.
Do you like the concept of a St. Nicholas Day celebration? How do you mark the beginning of the Christmas season in your home? Do you have a favorite way of giving to your community during the holidays? Share your celebration traditions in a comment!