All About St. Nicholas

When is St. Nicholas Day?

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6. In 2023, this is on a Wednesday.

Who is St. Nicholas?

St. Nicholas was a bishop of an ancient Greek town called Myra, in present-day Turkey. He may have attended the first Council of Nicaea, where he is rumored to have punched Arius, a heretic, in the face. He was born around March 15, 270 and died on December 6, 343.

St. Nicholas always had a love for the poor and would work for their benefit. The story goes that there was a poor man in town with no money for a dowry for his daughters. No dowry meant no marriage, which would have left his daughters to be sold into a life of servitude. Late one night, St. Nicholas dropped a bag of money down the chimney of the family home, thus allowing the daughters a dowry.

Most famously, he is the real-life historical figure from whom we get Santa Claus. His generosity inspired the "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" - Santa meaning Saint and Claus is short for Nicholas.

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St. Nicholas Day Traditions

On December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, children traditionally leave a shoe or a boot in front of the fireplace. The next morning the shoe is filled with small gifts, like coins, candy and oranges. The coins are given in remembrance of the coins St. Nicholas left the girls in need of a dowry and oranges are given to signify the gold that St. Nicholas gave away to those in need. This tradition comes from the legends of St. Nicholas’ generosity and led to the celebration of Santa Claus on Christmas Day today. In some countries, like Germany and Austria, St. Nicholas is accompanied by his counterpart the Krampus. Much like the legend of Santa Claus, the Krampus will leave coal in the shoes of misbehaving children. Children are encouraged to participate in acts of kindness to stay off of the Krampus’ naughty list.

In some countries people begin St. Nicholas Day celebrations with a parade. Many end their day with a celebratory meal. And since St. Nicholas is the patron saint of unmarried women, in Italy it's not just children who receive gifts.

One fun way to celebrate is to make traditional St. Nicholas cookies. In the United States gingerbread and sugar cookies are the most popular while in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany make spice cookies and peppermint cookies. The spice cookies are made into the shape of St. Nicholas - complete with a Bishop’s mitre and staff! 

Another tradition that is observed is to perform random acts of kindness on St. Nicholas’ feast day. You could drop off a grocery store gift card to those in need, give books to your parish to use at Christmas, anonymously pay the utility bill of someone in need or donate gifts to local foster care programs. Spend time as a family brainstorming what you can do to serve your community just as St. Nicholas did when he was alive.

Who is St. Nicholas the Patron Saint of?

A patron saint is a saint who is known for praying for and helping people in specific walks of life or particular circumstances. Saints are typically patron saints of people, things and situations that were similar to experiences they had when they were alive.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, bakers, brides, unmarried women, grooms, sailors and travelers. Because he was persecuted for his faith we can to pray for all people who are being persecuted around the world. He was a Bishop, so we can ask him to intercede for bishops. And he helped the poor, sick and suffering, so we can ask him to pray for those most in need in our communities.

The story of St. Nicholas is fun to know and a great way to remind us and our kids that Christmas is about more than just presents.

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