St. Nicholas Day
Written by Jason Cuce
St. Nicholas Day 2017 falls on Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Photo © Jenny Rollo at SXC
St. Nicholas was born around the year 280 A.D. He lived during the latter part of the third century into the first half of the fourth century in Asia Minor which is considered to be part of the modern day Turkey. St. Nicholas Day is held on December 6th, the day in which St. Nicholas, the Bishop Nicholas of Myra, died. The year of his death was 343 AD. During his lifetime, he lived his life as a servant of God. Through his kindness, caring and generosity to all, he became known throughout the world. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of multiple diverse groups including children. In many countries, children await anxiously for the morning of December 6th to see if St. Nicholas visited them during the night.
Nicholas was born in a city called Patara or Patras which, at the time of his birth around the year 280 A.D., was located in Asia Minor near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. As times and nations have changed, Patara is now in the country of Turkey.
The early years of Nicholas are mostly unknown. His parents were Epiphanes and Johane who both led very Christian lives. "From the first the boy Nicholas manifested sign of extreme piety, observing fasting periods even in earliest infancy. The story runs: 'Then, the first day that he was washed and bained, he addressed himself right up in the bason..and all that he might understand of holy scripture, he executed it in deed and work after his power.'"1 It is also told that Nicholas was very religious from the day he was born. He would eat only once on Wednesdays and Fridays in the evenings. He studiously followed his parents' beliefs and those of the church.
After this early time, not much is told about his youthful years. His parents died when Nicholas was a young man. It is known that his parents had wealth. After their death, Nicholas chose to share his wealth with others, especially the sick and the poor, as he wanted to be true to the following of the church.
Nicholas began to travel and as a young man, arrived in the city of Myra. Myra was located on the Mediterranean Sea and is located today in the country of Turkey "where the small town of Kale (Demre) is situated.."2 It was at this time that the bishop of Myra had died and the town was in need of a new bishop. The other bishops throughout the region were meeting in search of a new bishop. After a day of deliberation, they disbanded for the day. The head bishop went to bed that night and heard ".a voice which said to him that, at the hour of matins, he should take heed to the doors of the church, and him that should come first to the church, and have the name of Nicholas they should sacre him bishop."3 It was at the hour of matins, a man walked through the doors and this man was Nicholas. He was welcomed as the new Bishop of Myra.
As a young bishop, Nicholas was known for his miracles, generosity and faith. A few of the groups he is considered to be patron saint of include of bakers, children, pawnbrokers, travelers and the countries of Sicily, Russia and Greece. Because of his generosity and kindness towards children, his history has been kept alive in the lives of children throughout the world. On December 6th, many countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day with festivities of different venues.
In America, only a few cities which have a large Eastern European or Dutch descent celebrate St. Nicholas Day along with Christmas Day. Some of these cities include Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati. Other places in America only celebrate Christmas Day as the seasonal holiday.
Throughout the city of Milwaukee and its surrounding areas, children hang stockings on St. Nicholas Eve (December 5th) in hopes that St. Nicholas will visit. On St. Nicholas Day, children awake in hopes of finding good things such as fruit, candy, etc. in their stockings. If, instead, a child finds coal, the child has been bad and has just a few weeks to behave and to do good for others before Christmas Day.
In other countries, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated in a similar fashion except that St. Nicholas Day is the only day gifts are received. Children place shoes, boots, stockings, or some other type of vessel outside their house, window or room on December 5th. The following morning they awake and find candies, fruit, etc. in these vessels or under their pillows.
The Story of St Nicholas
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia
There are many paintings of St. Nicholas including several painted by Fra (Beato) Angelico which are located in the Vatican Pinacoteca, The Vatican. Some of Angelico's paintings of St. Nicholas can be seen on the website of WikiPaintings, The Story of St. Nicholas.4
There are an abundance of legends (stories) told of the many miracles St. Nicholas performed which are shared through many different versions. A few of the legends follow and are told in only one of the versions. Other versions of the stories can be found throughout Internet sites and through various books.
The Dowerless Maidens. One story told about Nicholas pertains to three dowerless maidens. The three maidens lived with their father who was a nobleman, yet a nobleman who was in poverty. During the times when Nicholas lived, a maiden, when married, needed to have some type of dowry. As the father was poor, the maidens had no dowry and would not be able to marry. The father was about to send the daughters into a sinful life when Nicholas stepped in and decided to help this poor family. During one night, Nicholas secretly threw ".into the house of the man a mass of gold wrapped in a cloth. And when the man arose in the morning, he found this mass of gold, and rendered to God therefor great thankings.."5 This would be the dowry for the oldest daughter and she was soon married.
Nicholas, again, set out during darkness and threw another wrapped golden mass into the father's house. The father awoke the next morning and again gave thanks for the gift which was used for the dowry of the second daughter. The second daughter also was soon married. After this second gifting, the father began watching nightly as to find out who was the secret benefactor for his daughters. One night as the father was watching, he heard the gold fall into his house. Quickly he ran outside and saw the cloaked stranger who threw the gift into his house. He followed the stranger and found that the secret benefactor was Nicholas. As Nicholas did not want any notoriety, he only requested the father to keep quiet about the gifts as long as he was alive.
The Miracle of the Wheat. There was a great famine within the province where Bishop Nicholas was presiding. All were hungry and in need of food. The Bishop Nicholas heard there had come into port many ships carrying wheat. He approached the mariners and prayed that they would give to the people in the province at least ".an hundred muyes of wheat of every ship. And they said: Father, we dare not, for it is meted and measured, and we must give reckoning thereof in the gamers of the emperor in Alexandria. And the holy man said to them: Do this that I have said to you, and I promise, in the truth of God, that it shall not be lessened or minished when ye shall come to the gamers." When the ships arrived and unloaded in Alexandria, all the measures of wheat were there. As for the people in the Bishop's province, every needful man received wheat, enough for two years of selling and sowing.
The Three Schoolboys. A version of one miracle is a story told about three boys who were returning home from school. The three boys were tired and decided to rest at an inn or in some versions, a farmhouse. During the night hours, the innkeeper and his wife murder the boys and place their bodies into casks or barrels. "In the morning St. Nicholas, appears and calls the guilty ones to task. They deny guilt, but are convicted when the saint causes the boys, sound of body and limb, to arise from the casks."7 It is through this story that St. Nicholas became the patron saint of all school boys.
Defender of Faith. When St. Nicholas was older, he was in attendance at the Council of Nicaea. One Arian bishop had spoken against the Catholic faith. St. Nicholas, known more for his kindly deeds, surprised everyone by striking the Arian bishop. Because of this act, St. Nicholas "was deprived of the right of wearing bishop's robes. But, the story adds, in celebrating the mass, he saw angels bearing him the miter and the pallitmi as a sign that heaven had not blamed his wrath."8
St. Nicholas, from birth, was dedicated to the church through his kindness and giving. "His role was not in general that of the apostle extending the boundaries of Christendom nor that of the expounder of creed. His fame rests on his kindly acts."9 By celebrating St. Nicholas Day, people throughout the world hold a special place in their heart for this caring saint through their kindnesses performed.
1. McKnight, George H., St. Nicholas, His Legend and His Rôle in the Christmas Celebration and Other Popular Customs, G. P. Putnam's Sons., New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917, [NOOK version], retrieved from Barnes and Noble Nook for PC on November 12, 2012, pg. 26.
3. McKnight, George H., St. Nicholas, His Legend and His Rôle in the Christmas Celebration and Other Popular Customs, G. P. Putnam's Sons., New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917, [NOOK version], retrieved from Barnes and Noble Nook for PC on November 12, 2012, pg. 40.
4. "The Story of St. Nicholas," WikiPaintings, Visual Art Encyclopedia,
5. McKnight, George H., St. Nicholas, His Legend and His Rôle in the Christmas Celebration and Other Popular Customs, G. P. Putnam's Sons., New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917, [NOOK version], retrieved from Barnes and Noble Nook for PC on November 12, 2012, pg. 33-34.
6. Ibid, pg 47
7. Ibid, pg 30
8. Ibid, pg 76
9. Ibid, pg 75