St. Nicholas Day
Also known as
Saint Nicholas Day
annually on December 6th
St. Nicholas Day celebrates St. Nicholas, a popular minor Christian saint in Western and Eastern churches. In the fourth century, he was a bishop in Myra, a Greek town in the ancient district of Lycia, in Asia Minor, near present-day Demre, Turkey. The story of much of his life is not based on historical evidence, but on traditional stories and legends. It is believed that he was born in Patara, a seaport in Lycia, and that he traveled to Palestine and Egypt before coming to Myra. He was imprisoned for his beliefs by Roman Emperor Diocletian but was freed by Constantine the Great. He is believed to have been at the first council of Nicaea, and there are many legends that say he performed miracles for the poor. He was known for giving gifts and putting coins in people's shoes, and this influenced the way he is celebrated, as well as how other traditions during the Christmas season are celebrated.
St. Nicholas was buried in his church in Myra, and over the next few centuries, pilgrims began coming to his shrine. In 1087, his remains were stolen and taken to Bari, Italy. This increased his popularity in Europe, and Bari became a popular pilgrimage site. Most of his remains are still at the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari. His popularity continued to rise during the Middle Ages, but disappeared in most places except the Netherlands during the Reformation. His popularity has come back in Europe, and he has since become the patron saint of many places and people.
St. Nicholas Day is popular in Europe, particularly with children, because of the belief that St. Nicholas brings them gifts. Before the day, many European children place shoes or special St. Nicholas boots in front of fireplaces or outside of their front door at night. On the morning of the day, they receive small presents, such as candy, cookies, fruit, and small toys. Besides shoes or boots, presents are also placed in stockings, socks, or bags. In some countries, gifts are given on the eve of the day. In some European cities, especially those where he is the patron saint, the day is also marked with parades, feasts, and festivals. Some churches also have special services dedicated to the day.
Some in America also celebrate St. Nicholas Day. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch brought the tradition to New Amsterdam, which is now New York City. St. Nicholas had been called Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, and when he was brought to America he eventually became known as Santa Claus. During the nineteenth century, the Santa Claus we think of today came into his own. Similar to Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, Father Christmas of Britain is inspired by St. Nicholas. Another character, Krampus, is seen as being the evil companion of St. Nicholas.
How to Observe
Children could celebrate by putting their shoes or boots in front of a fireplace or outside of their front door the night before the day. Stockings or socks could also be used. Parents could fill the shoes with small toys, candy, and other treats. Although the day is most celebrated by children and their parents, anyone can participate. You could even drop coins into people's shoes just as St. Nicholas did. Some cities have parades, feasts, and festivals which you could attend today. You could also plan a trip to the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari, where the remains of St. Nicholas are held.