St. Nicholas Day: Children, adults worldwide welcome the ‘real’ Saint Nick

Boots set out for St. Nicholas. Photo by Patrick Buechner

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6: Santa Claus may be seen in malls across America, but the real St. Nick—the historical bishop of Myra, that is—makes his grand appearance around the world on December 6—St. Nicholas Day. From the Netherlands to France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Bulgaria, St. Nicholas Day is greeted with beloved customs, special baked goods, processions and reenactments. In many countries, St. Nicholas Day is an opportunity to move away from the commercialization of the holiday season and toward the “true meaning” of Christmas—as a time of giving, reflection and gratitude. A 4th-century Christian leader renowned for immense generosity, St. Nicholas is known as the protector of children and is the patron saint of an entire list of cities and peoples.

How is St. Nicholas celebrated? French households are especially likely to smell of spiced gingerbread biscuits, while children learn songs and poems about St. Nicholas in school; the Italian fair known as Fiera di San Nicolo can last more than a week; in Serbia, St. Nicholas is the most popular family patron saint.

In many cities, St. Nicholas makes his grand entrance in a parade. Photo by FaceMePLS, courtesy of Flickr

NICHOLAS OF MYRA: THE SAINT BEHIND SANTA CLAUS

The story of Nicholas begins in modern-day Turkey, with a baby born into a wealthy Christian family. Fate quickly turned when the young St. Nicholas became an orphan, however. Taking to heart the words of Jesus—“sell what you own and give the money to the poor”—Nicholas used his inheritance to help the needy, devoted his life to God, and was made bishop of Myra. Through the years, Nicholas would become renowned for his humble and generous spirit.

Though persecuted for his faith, Nicholas remained steadfast in his beliefs, and his story spread far and wide. Following his death, a relic called manna formed on his grave, and the substance became known for its healing abilities. The date of St. Nicholas’ death soon became widely celebrated.

RESOURCES:
ST. NICHOLAS CENTER OFFERS ACTIVITIES, RECIPES & MORE

To make the traditions and customs of St. Nicholas Day available to the world, the St. Nicholas Center was created as a nonprofit organization for everything related to the famed bishop of Myra. Dozens of new pages and resources are added to the site each year,  from videos, how-tos, printables, articles and more on everything from traditional Speculaas cookie recipes to church resources to general information:

St. Nicholas Day speculaas

Speculaas cookies for St. Nicholas Day, made with traditional cookie molds. Photo by Turku Gingerbread, courtesy of Flickr

Interested in the life of St. Nicholas? Learn more here.

For children, check out this page.

For youth groups, visit here.

Cook up Speculaas cookies, gluten-free Speculoos and Ukrainian Christmas Honey Cookies, with cookie recipes here.

For tips on how to use cookie molds, check out this article.

Get crafty with suggestions and directions, here.

Or, access printable ornaments, figures and candy wrappers, puppets and more here.

What makes a Dutch St. Nicholas party unique? Find out—and host your own version of the party—by visiting here.

Introducing St. Nicholas to a group? Check out this video for information about the famed bishop.

Looking for a short play about St. Nicholas? Find two miracle plays, ideal for use with young people, here and here.

View 14th-century Icelandic illuminations of St. Nicholas, here. From among the Medieval manuscripts of Iceland, the Helgastaðabók: Nikulás Saga (Book of Helgastadir) contains the Life of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra, along with three full-page pictures of St. Nicholas and 15 figured initials (note that it was highly unusual to have more than one full-page illumination for such a book). The original manuscript is currently in the Royal Library in Stockholm.

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