St. Nicholas Day is observed annually on December 6.
St. Nicholas Day celebrates the third-century saint who sold all his possessions and gave his money to the poor. Raised to be a devout Christian, his whole life was dedicated to serving the sick and suffering.
Unlike Jesus, St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family (in 270 AD). Now beyond just his economic designation, it was his access to relatively more wealth that probably set off a ‘motion of good deeds’ – thus ultimately giving rise to the character of Santa Claus as we know him. To that end, St. Nicholas’ family business possibly entailed a large fishing fleet. But from his childhood days, Nicholas displayed piety as opposed to a life of spoiled indulgence. And the turning point to this affable period came when both of his parents apparently died from a plague. But instead of squandering away his rich inheritance, Nicholas began to serve the poor near his home, and finally started traveling in the surrounding towns and countryside.
There are several legendary stories about St. Nicholas which later become part of the inspiration for the modern-day Santa Claus.
- For example, during the third century, a daughter was more likely to be married if her father could offer a large dowry to prospective husbands. The story goes that a poor father with three daughters had no dowry to offer. On three separate occasions, it is said good Ol’ St. Nicholas made bags of gold appear in the girls’ shoes drying by the fire at night.
- While St. Nicholas Day traditions include leaving gifts in shoes (or stockings) or the exchange of small gifts, it is not to be confused with Christmas. Traditionally, treats are left for good boys and girls, and a twig or chunk of coal for the naughty ones.
- He is the patron saint of a great many causes including sailors, travelers, clergy, school children and thieves just to name a few.
- He was born in the village of Patar which was located on the southeastern coast of modern-day Turkey.
- Buried in a tomb in Myra, water believed to have healing powers formed in his grave. It is called the Manna of Saint Nicholas.
- December 6th is also known as The Feast of St. Nicholas and is widely celebrated in Europe.
- The saint’s name Nicholas is of Greek origin and means “victor of people.”
- Nicholas was born in Patara in A.D. 270 and served as Bishop of Myra, both seaport towns off Turkey’s southern coast where he lived all his life (and died in 345).
- St. Nicholas’s anonymous gift-giving originated in his hometown of Patara in Turkey. According to ancient tradition, to deliver a destitute family of a widower father and his three daughters, who their father was considering to sell into slavery, out of dire poverty, the young Nicholas secretly threw three bags of gold coins through their window on three consecutive nights.
- His anonymous nocturnal gift-giving has continued in many countries to today, including being translated into Santa’s visits.
- The sometimes till used symbol of three gold balls at a pawn brokers’ shops echo this compassionate act. Surprisingly, St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of pawnbrokers.
- He got to be Santa Claus thanks to a corruption of the Dutch way of referring to him as “Sinterklaas.” The Dutch brought “Sinterklaas” with them to North America in 1621 when they founded New Amsterdam on the tip of Manhattan. English speaking settlers later corrupted the name, which evolved into “Santa Claus.”
- The inspiration of St. Nicholas led French nuns during the Middle Ages to start the tradition of bringing anonymous gifts under the cover of night to needy families and their children on Dec. 5, St. Nicholas Eve. The next morning, the feast of St. Nicholas, the poor families would wake to discover food, clothing, food treats and some modest money assistance.
- When the poor tried to find out who their benefactor was, they got the answer, “It must have been St. Nicholas.”
- Candy canes have been a staple in America and are associated Santa Claus. Why? They really derive from the crozier, the bishop’s staff, of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas.
- In 2017, a team from the University of Oxford radio carbon tested a fragment of a pelvic bone said to be from St. Nicholas. The test confirmed that the bone fragment, owned by an American priest, dated from the saint’s era.
- St. Nicholas’ bones weep Manna; Since his death 17 centuries ago, a pure liquid known as the Manna of St. Nicholas, or St. Nicholas Manna, has flowed from his bones.Every May 9th, during the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas, a Dominican priest collects the manna in a glass vial to be used to bless the Christian faithful.
- Did you know that Rudolph and Santa’s other reindeers might well be all girls!? Only female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter. By Christmas time most males have discarded their antlers and are saving their energy ready to grow a new pair in the spring.
- Most children receive their presents on Christmas Eve night or early Christmas morning, but in some countries they get their presents on St. Nicholas’ Eve, December 5th.
- In January 1863, the magazine Harper’s Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas/St Nick by Thomas Nast. In this he was wearing a ‘Stars and Stripes’ outfit! Over the next 20 years Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa every Christmas and his works were very popular indeed (he must have been very good friends with Santa to get such good access!).
- On January 1st 1881, Harper’s Weekly published Nast’s most famous image of Santa, complete with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe!
- This image of Santa became very popular, with more artists drawing Santa in his red and white costume from 1900 to 1930.