The Legend of Saint Nicholas
Decorating the Christmas tree, visiting Santa Claus, wrapping presents, watching Christmas movies, we all have our favorite Christmas traditions, but another fun tradition is that of celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas, which occurs on the anniversary of his death—December 6th. Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and children, was born in 280 in Patara, Turkey. During his life, Saint Nicholas helped the needy providing for the poor and sick.
In one popular Saint Nicholas story, a poor man had three daughters for whom he could pay no dowry. Because of this, the father planned to sell his daughters into slavery. Upon hearing this, Saint Nicholas tossed a small bag of gold coins into the home through the window, and the coins landed in a stocking. (In some versions, it is a shoe.) This money provided a dowry for the oldest, and she was married. Saint Nicholas also provided a dowry for the other two daughters. According to the story, the father waited and caught Saint Nicholas as he left the last bag of coins and thanked him for his generosity. Saint Nicholas, being humble, asked the father to keep his identity a secret and show his appreciation to God instead.
In another story, Saint Nicholas was traveling to the Holy Land seeking a spiritual retreat. On the trip home, a storm developed and frightened all of the sailors. Saint Nicholas prayed and calm waters returned. The sailors were amazed by Saint Nicholas’s ability to calm the storm through prayer.
For families interested in celebrating Saint Nicholas Day, the Saint Nicholas Center website provides everything needed to celebrate. To begin, there is a short list of reasons to celebrate which include “focusing on giving than receiving . . . to emphasize small treats and family fun . . . to offer a spiritual dimension to gift giving . . .to tell the story of a Christian saint, whose model life inspires compassion and charity.” The site includes various recipes from beverages to breads and desserts to main dishes. In addition to the recipes, the site includes book and article resources, prayers, and decoration ideas.
Similar to Santa Claus, there is a gift giving tradition associated with Saint Nicholas. The earliest being in the 12th century, when French nuns provided small treats and gifts at the needy children’s doors. This practice spread to various European countries and beyond. Still today, in some parts of the world, children leave shoes or stockings by the door for Saint Nicholas to fill.
Children will enjoy all aspects of celebrating Saint Nicholas Day, but the Saint Nicholas shoe gifts may be their favorite. Traditional gifts include gold coins, oranges, nuts, and small chocolates; however, nontraditional gifts can also be used. Other gift ideas include Christmas pajamas, books, crayons, paints, coloring books, jewelry, a Christmas ornament, gift card, and any small toy. Most importantly, keep it simple and honor St. Nicholas not only on December 6th but also throughout the year by helping those in need.
By Beth McKay