Today is St. Nicholas Day or at least the day that it is celebrated by people here in the U.S. Growing up I always remember being surprised by the arrival of St. Nicholas Day and not knowing many people outside of my family who celebrated it. We never did much in the way of preparation for the visit of St. Nick so his visit always caught me off guard. I remember waking up on what often seemed like a random December to find out that St. Nick had stopped by the previous night and left a small gift for each member of the family.
I always kind of enjoyed the fact that St. Nicholas Day would sort of sneak up on me most years. I think that was part of the reason why I didn’t put much energy into keeping track of what date it was celebrated on. However, once I was in high school knowing that St. Nicholas day was coming was unavoidable. See in high school, I took German for my foreign language and we celebrated since it is traditionally celebrated in Germany. Every year in German, we would leave out cut outs of shoes attached to a cup for St. Nick. I think it’s a little funny that we actually did more to prepare of St. Nicholas Day in that class than my family ever did at home.
Now that I’ve told you about what St. Nicholas Day means to me, I figure I might as well provide a little information on good ole St. Nick. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on a few different days depending on the culture. Western Christian cultures, such as Germany and the U.S., are known for celebrating on December 6th. This day is significant because it is the day when St. Nicholas passed away all the way back in the 4th century.
Of course I’m sure you’re wondering why St. Nicholas has a day where we celebrate his life. Well, he was a Greek bishop who was dedicated to helping the less fortunate. The story often told about him was at one time he came across an unfortunate man who could not afford the dowry for the marriages of his daughters. St. Nicholas ended up helping out this man by throwing three sacks of gold in this man’s house to serve as dowry for his daughters. Over time he became known for secretly giving gifts and leaving coins in people’s shoes.
The reputation of St. Nicholas leaving money in people’s shoes lead to the tradition in many cultures where people leave out their shoes by the fireplace or outside on December 5th in hopes of St Nicholas leaving gifts for them. If this sounds like a familiar tradition it is because Santa Claus came about from the traditions of St. Nicholas. So really good old St. Nick is the original and Santa Claus is a derivative of sorts that came from over here in the U.S.