St. Nicholas Day (Feast of St. Nicholas)
Observed annually on December 6th in Western Christian countries, and on December 19th in Eastern Orthodox Christian countries, St. Nicholas Day is a holiday that celebrates the 4th-century saint. Although Saint Nicholas is known as the patron saint of archers, merchants, sailors, repentant thieves, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, students, and children, he is best known today for his association with Santa Claus.
Also known as the Feast of St. Nicolas, this is a holiday that’s observed with various religious and secular events, depending on the locality where the holiday is observed. Regardless of how it’s celebrated, it’s a day that remembers the kindness, generosity, and compassion of a revered Christian saint for everyone who celebrates it.
The History Of Saint Nicholas Day
According to age-old Christian tradition, Nicholas of Myra was born in Patar, the capital of Lycia, in Asia Minor. According to this tradition, he made a pilgrimage to Egypt in order to study theology and was then consecrated the Bishop of Myra.
He would be imprisoned during the Great Persecution (also known as the Diocletianic Persecution) but was released after the promulgation of the Edict of Milan by Constantine the Great in 313. The Edict of Milan allowed the public practice of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
Throughout his life, St. Nicholas of Myra would become known for his generosity. According to legend, he gave a poor father money in order to prevent his daughters from ending up in slavery, as the father didn’t have the dowries for the daughters.
In this legend, St. Nicolas threw the money through the family’s window and it ended up landing in their shoes — shoes that were drying near the fireplace. That is why treats are often placed in children’s shoes on this Feast Day. Saint Nicolas died on December 6th, 346.
He would be entombed in St. Nicolas Church, but his remains would be removed to Italy by Italian soldiers. He was then enshrined in the Basilica di San Nicola and that is where his remains remain to this day. According to Christian tradition, his tomb is said to exude the Oil of Saint Nicholas. This oil has attracted Christian pilgrims through the centuries who collect the oil and use them during prayer.
Observing Saint Nicholas Day
St. Nicolas Day is observed in different parts of the world in different ways. Although it’s not possible for us to cover every single one of these celebrations in detail during the course of this holiday article, we will take the time to hit on some of the major Feast of St. Nicolas observations around the world. As we said, the following observances and celebrations aren’t an exhaustive list, but they are a good start for anyone looking to learn more about this holiday.
Belgium, Netherlands, Southern Germany, And Luxembourg
This holiday is celebrated either as Sinterlaasfeest in Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium, or La Saint-Nicolas in French-speaking parts of the country on December 6th. In the Netherlands, it’s observed on December 5th. Prior to these days, children will place their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing the appropriate songs for the holiday. Sometimes children will place a carrot or some hay in their shoes as a gift to St. Nicolas’ horse. The following morning they will find a small present in their shoes. This present can be small toys such as marbles or sweets such as chocolates and/or candies.
Eastern Europe & Eastern Central Europe
In Croatia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary, children will often leave their cleaned boots on their windowsills on the evening before St. Nicolas Day. Candies, nuts, or gifts are then found in the boots by the next morning.
In Slovenia, it’s been traditional to bring gifts to children to commemorate them for their good behavior throughout the year and to encourage them to continue with this good behavior. If they don’t, then they will receive a visit from Parkelj who traditionally leaves a rod for their parents to discipline them with.
France & Northern Germany
This day is celebrated somewhat inconsistently throughout France, with some villages and towns celebrating it while others completely ignore it. It is an important holiday across Alsace, the French Ardennes, the French Low Countries, and Franche-Comte. In some villages, a donkey carries presents for the children, which may or may not include sweets. Stories are told, and gingerbread cookies are also baked around this holiday.
In Northern Germany, this holiday is celebrated by children placing a book outside their front door on December 5th. The boot is then filled by “St. Nicolas” with fruits, gifts, and sweets. In Austria and Bavaria, St. Nicolas is often depicted as being accompanied by Krampus — a creature that punished children throughout the Yule Season for their misdeeds.
St. Nicolas is the patron of the city of Bari, which is why May 7th through 9th is observed with the Festa di San Nicola. During that celebration, the relics of the saint are carried on a boat on the sea in front of the city. But that’s a celebration for another time. During St. Nicolas Day, there are a variety of religious and cultural celebrations on this day and some families consider these celebrations to almost be as important as Christmas.
The United States
Although St. Nicolas Day isn’t widely celebrated in the United States, thanks to the influx of German immigrants to areas such as St. Louis, Missouri; Evansville, Indiana; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Fredericksburg, Texas there are pockets of communities that observe this holiday in much the same way as it’s observed in Germany. Stockings and shoes are filled with candy, and there are stories are shared with children.
As anyone and everyone can see, St. Nicholas Day is an important and fun holiday that’s celebrated around the world. This is a day when children receive gifts and are sometimes told frightening stories about Krampus. It’s also a day when families get together in a spirit of celebration and/or faith. With that being said, people can spread the word about this holiday online using the hashtag #SaintNicolasDay.