Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Tradition of Saint Nicholas Day

As a child, my family always celebrated the Saint Nicholas ‘holiday’. 

According to Wikipedia, “The tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, usually on 6 December (19 December in most Orthodox countries), is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derived from these legends. "Santa Claus" is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas.” In the United States, “While feasts of Saint Nicholas are not observed nationally, cities with strong German influences like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis celebrate St. Nick's Day on a scale similar to the German custom. As in other countries, many people in the United States celebrate a separate St Nicholas Day by putting their shoes outside their bedroom doors or hanging an empty stocking by the fireplace on the evening of 5 December. St Nicholas then comes during the night. On the morning of 6 December, those people will find their shoes/stockings filled with gifts and sugary treats. Widespread adoption of the tradition has spread among the German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch communities throughout the United States. 

On 24 December, Christmas Eve, each child puts one empty stocking/sock on their fireplace. The following morning of 25 December, the children awake to find that St. Nick has filled their stockings with candy and small presents (if the children have been good) or coal (if not). Gifts often include chocolate gold coins to represent the gold St. Nick gave to the poor and small trinkets. They also awake to find presents under the tree, wrapped in Christmas-themed paper. This is a very traditional part of Christmas. 

The religious St. Nicholas

Growing up, I knew nothing about the actual Saint! I went to a Catholic school and all, but my family wasn’t very religious. I just knew that St. Nick stuffed our stockings with candy and other gifts. Having a sister with a December 2 birthday and an unwritten rule that holiday decorations couldn’t come out until December 3 meant that the coming of St. Nick was the first sign of Christmas in our house. We all looked forward to waking up on December 6 to see what sort of goodies St. Nick brought us; always giving the apple and orange to mom to put in the fruit bowl (because, really St. Nick. With all that candy did you think we would want to eat fruit?). My favorite part of the stocking was the little presents: Small toys, Christmas socks, pencils/pens. The Christmas themed stuffed animals were my favorites! 

To this day, my family STILL celebrates St. Nick. Can you believe he still stops by my parent’s house and leaves stockings for us? He even asks my mom to mail my sister’s stocking to her in Jacksonville, FL. I’m not sure if he’s getting old or what, but I don’t think he realizes he leaves a stocking for me (and my husband and dog) at my own home too! Over the years he has left less and less candy and instead he leaves more adult appropriate gifts like movie theater or custard stand gift cards. For the last ten years or so he’s been leaving me the Hallmark singing snowmen at my home! I always look forward to seeing the newest animatronic stuffed animal that Hallmark has created.

Even as a kid I knew that St. Nick did not visit all my friends.  My neighbor friends were often jealous of my candy and I knew not to mention my St. Nick gifts to certain kids at school because I didn’t want them to feel badly.  I often wondered though; were they naughty?  Did they really just get coal and not want to admit it?  I later found out that some kids got their stockings filled by Santa Claus; I did not.  That must have been why St. Nick didn’t visit their house!  The visit from St. Nick will always be a big memory of the Christmas traditions of my childhood and I plan on keeping it alive for a long time.  At least until Hallmark stops making the singing snowmen!

If you're interested, while searching for images of St. Nicholas I found this article about the tradition of St. Nicholas in Milwaukee.

This is the St. Nicholas I knew.


1 comment:

  1. A nice tradition. St. Nick no longer shows up on 86th street though. :(