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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Categories: Christian

St. Nicholas Day: Children around the world welcome the legendary saint of Myra

White horse carrying man in red robes with white beard, two people guide horse in front

St. Nicholas arrives on horseback, flanked by Black Peter. Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6: The white-bearded man in the red suit may travel by reindeer in the West, but today, Sinterklaas, or San Nicola, arrives across Europe on horseback—for St. Nicholas Day. For European children, St. Nicholas Day brings hope of sweets, small toys and surprises, as the fourth-century saint makes his rounds with Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). For Christian families, the excitement and gifts of St. Nicholas Day can better prepare children for focus on the Nativity on Christmas Day.

Advent season: For more than a billion Western Christians, Advent begins before St. Nicholas day. (The first Advent Sunday is December 2 in 2018.)

Nativity Fast: For Eastern Orthodox Christians, the 40-day fasting period known as Nativity Fast lasts through December 24.

NICHOLAS: A BISHOP BECOMES A LEGEND

The historical St. Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in modern-day Turkey. When orphaned at a young age, Nicholas followed the words of Jesus and sold his inheritance, giving the profits to the poor. (Learn more from St. Nicholas Center.) The generous young man devoted his life to God and was soon made bishop of Myra, where his reputation for compassion continued. Despite imprisonment and persecution during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas unwaveringly continued his servitude toward others .

Stories of his works and deeds spread throughout the land, and some of those stories are still told on St. Nicholas Day today. In 343 CE, St. Nicholas died in Myra. A relic, known as manna, formed on his grave, and the substance was believed to have healing properties.

NIKOLAOS THE WONDERWORKER & EUROPEAN TRADITIONS

In the many countries that observe St. Nicholas Day—the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria and more—the day is met with special baked goods, processions and reenactments of wonderful stories from the life of St. Nicholas. In Germany and Poland, boys dress as bishops and beg for alms for the poor; in France, the spicy smell of gingerbread cookies and mannala (a brioche shaped like the bishop) fills kitchens and bakeries. St. Nicholas is the most popular family patron saint in Serbia. Throughout Europe, children leave their shoes out on the evening of December 5, to be filled with either treats or coal by the passing St. Nicholas and his sidekick companion, Zwarte Piet.

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

This year, the nonprofit St. Nicholas Center has expanded its free printables, stories, handmade gifts and more with 49 new features: a video to introduce St. Nicholas, intended for St. Nicholas events and a handout on The Real Santa (with an Eastern image, too) are just a few of the features. Visitors to the site can find printable candy bar wrappers, paper bag puppets, cookies and even a religious devotional for churches—all with the intention of spreading the story of the life of the famed bishop of Myra.

Learn about the life of St. Nicholas, here. For children, check out this page.

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

Get creative with craft ideas and directions, here.

Access St. Nicholas Day blessings and other faith-based resources, here.

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Categories: Christian