Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Feast of St. Nicholas: A Little History

Good morning! I actually wrote this post last year, as I was still new to blogging I do not think too many read it, so I am re-posting it today for those that would like to know a little  history about St. Nicholas. 

ALL IMAGES FROM St. Nicholas Center

Do you know what today is? The eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas! Tonight is the night you put your shoes or socks out so that St. Nick fills them up with all sorts of treats!

 I have been celebrating St. Nicholas for my entire life, and my mother before her, and her mother too, it is a custom that my family brought over from Germany. In many places where St. Nicholas is prominent his feast day is the day you receive your gifts, not Christmas. 

For those of you not familiar with St. Nicholas, here is an abbreviated history, Nicholas was born in the third century in the village of Patara. His wealthy parents died while he was very young and being the devout Christian that he was he set about giving away his inheritance, to the poor, needy and suffering people in his town. He was raised by his uncle who was a member of the clergy and he dedicated himself to serving God, while still young he became the Bishop of Myra. He became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need and his love for children as well as his concern for sailors and ships. In fact he is the patron saint of children and sailors.

There are many tales and legends of the life and deeds of St. Nicholas which help us to understand why he was so loved and revered. One famous story tells the tale of three young girls who had no dowry, their father was a mean and nasty man and said that with no dowry he could not keep them, he would have to sell them as slaves. Nicholas heard this and tried to think of ways to get them money, without offering charity, as he knew the father would not take it. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, money appeared in their home.  The bags of coins where thrown in an open window, and  landed in their shoes drying by the sill. Hence the reason we put our shoes out!

Some people say it was bags of money, some people say gold balls , that is why you see three gold balls sometimes represented as oranges as the symbol of St. Nicholas, hence the reason  you always find an orange in your shoe or sock along with your other goodies. It is also the reason St. Nicholas became known as a gift giver.

The anniversary of the death of  St. Nicholas also became a celebration of his life, December 6th or if you follow the Julian calendar December 19th. So on the eve of his celebration we leave out our shoes or stockings and a few carrots for his horse or donkey and hope that in the morning we will find some treats, if your bad all you get is a few twigs or some coal.

We do also celebrate Christmas, this was just a little visit from the great man to make sure that we were being good, apparently we were because we always got an orange, and lots of treats.

What about you? Do you celebrate St.Nick? What are your family traditions? I love hearing all about other peoples traditions or traditions from your country. Do share please!

I hope you have a great night, get your shoes out, you never know if you are going to get a visit from old St. Nick!

This is from the St. Nicholas site but you can make your own at Wordle.

If you are interested there are fabulous books written on St.Nicholas, and also how the Saint transformed into the modern Santa Claus, Pere Noel or Father Christmas. Whatever you know him by, he was a lover of children whatever your age! You can also find lots of information at the St. Nicholas Center where there are images of the man, a history of his life and of course suggestions for celebrating his life.

All images from the St. Nicholas Center HERE


  1. Interesting, no we do not celebrate it but I was fascinated to read and learn more about it.....wonderful!

    BTW...saw Anna Karenina yesterday, AMAZING!!! Cannot recommend it enough, just stunning in every sense!

  2. Good morning Elizabeth! OH YES, the shoe thing....that is very French and I suppose that their tradition goes way back to St. Nicholas!

    How are you? Still running busy? SO AM I! Off I go to teach today. I must be crazy to have accepted FOUR jobs in the next week! Anita

  3. It was a great post, I remember reading it last year ;-)

    I'm going to get my daughter to put her shoes out, and hope that she has been good!

    All though not a family tradition, when I was at boarding school we always did this, and St Nicholas always gave us little treats. It was great fun (and now I realise how good the nuns were) Imagine filling over 100 pairs of shoes!

    Jude x

  4. I enjoy reading any literature about St. Nicholas@ Thanks for reposting; this was an enlightenkng read!

  5. I enjoy reading any literature about St. Nicholas@ Thanks for reposting; this was an enlightenkng read!

  6. Hi, Elizabeth -
    Thank you for re-posting this! And for all your research. I never knew about the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas or the tradition of putting shoes outside. Hope you are having a wonderful December.....such unseasonably warm weather!

  7. Elizabeth, The Feast of St. Nicholas is always a special day. Up until a few years ago St. Nicholas would visit the school and hand out chocolate filled gold coins. It was always such fun for the children. Yes my St. Nicholas will go on top of my tree tonight. He has kept watch over our home during Advent for more years than I can remember.

  8. Hi Elizabeth
    I learn so much from you! How wonderful to share with us this beautiful story and piece of history. Happy Holidays to you



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