If you wake up the morning of December 6th to find a full bag of candy or presents waiting for you, it’s likely you received a visit from St. Nicholas.
In parts of Europe, St. Nicholas, brings gifts for children on St. Nicholas Day. Houses are thoroughly cleaned, and children clean their shoes or boots, preferably the biggest pair possible, in preparation for the big man to visit.
The evening before St. Nicholas Day, children place letters and carrots or other food near their shiny shoes for the bishop with the flowing beard and staff and his white horse or donkey. These items are sometimes left outside, under a bed or near a window for St. Nicholas to come fill them with goodies. St. Nicholas then goes from house to house with a book where all of the children’s deeds for the year are carefully noted. In theory, if the children have been good, he fills their shoes or a plate with fruits, nuts and candies. If the children have been bad, their shoes are filled with potatoes, coal and twigs.
Also on this day, many children recite poems or sing songs for the bishop. Some even make a small gift for him. Other traditions include lighting candles on the Advent wreath and the Christmas pyramid with a nativity scene; and then some families read stories and sing songs as everyone waits for his arrival. When there is a knock on the door, the jolly saint comes in with his book and sack of goodies, and one of the children holds his staff for him as he asks them, “Have you behaved yourself?” If the answer is “yes,” he gives out gifts and goodies for everyone to share. The children share their surprises with St. Nicholas as well.
Fanny lives in Switzerland. She shares her story as a child, with St. Nicholas Day being a very special day to remember.
“In Switzerland, St. Nicholas Day (Samichlaus) is actually one of the most exciting holiday’s for little kids. I think I used to be more excited for St. Nicholas day than Christmas. Well, St. Nicholas actually came and talked to us, Santaclause didn’t. Every year on the evening of the 6th December my sister and I were told to have some kind of song ready so we could perform it to St. Nicholas who would be visiting us later that night. We were always extremely scared as he would be reading out all the things we did wrong during the year. It used to be so strange that he knew all these things about us… The only odd thing about the omnious St. Nicholas was that he wore the exact same shoes as our parent’s friend. Very strange. Years later my sister and I realized that this hadn’t been a coincidence, yet that of course my parent’s friend was pretending to be our St. Nicholas.”
Janell has started this tradition with her family in Canada, with her husband’s European history.
“Each year my husband’s family took part in a German tradition that celebrated St. Nicholas. All over the world people celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on the 6th of December. Now my husband and I carry on this same tradition with our own children. The night before St. Nicholas’ Day we like to read the story about this favorite saint. Then the kids create their Christmas lists. The children put their letters to St. Nick in their shoes or boots. They leave them by the front door and hope that St. Nicholas will fill them with fruit, nuts, candy, and treats that night. In the morning, the kids are overjoyed to find their shoes stuffed with some delicious and fun treats.”
History of St. Nicholas
Saint Nicholas is celebrated in honour of the benign bringer of gifts. He lived in the country of Greece, just a couple hundred years after the birth of Christ.
Saint Nicholas became a priest, and later, a Bishop of the early Catholic Church. True to the christian concept of giving up belongings and following Christ, St. Nicholas gave up all of his belongings. He was well known for giving to needy people, especially children. There are may stories and tales of him helping out children in need.
The practice of hanging up stockings originated with Saint Nicholas. As the ancient legend goes, Saint Nicholas was known to throw small bags of gold coins into the open windows of poor homes. After one bag of gold fell into the stocking of a child, news got around. Children soon began hanging their stocking by their chimneys “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the spirit of St. Nicholas’ life evolved into the creation of Santa Claus. And, this happened in America. Santa Claus emerged (or evolved) from the stories and legends of St. Nicholas. Santa Claus was kind and generous to children. Unlike “St. Nick”, Santa Claus is largely a non-religious character.
Photography: Deborah Dewbury
Source: Megan Finley