What is Saint Nicholas Day?

December is here and children all over the world are getting excited about their favorite holidays!  Christmas will take place on the 25th... Boxing Day will take place on the 26th... Kwanzaa will begin on the 26th and will last until January 1st... and... Hanukkah often falls during this month. But... there is another holiday in December that takes place on the 6th... Saint Nicholas Day!  Have you ever heard of Saint Nicholas Day?  Who is Saint Nicholas?  What did Saint Nicholas do to deserve his own special day?  What are some of the traditions associated with Saint Nicholas Day? Keep reading to learn more!

What is Saint Nicholas Day? Saint Nicholas Day is an Orthodox Christian holiday that is celebrated on December 6th of each year. History & traditions.

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Who is Saint Nicholas?

Contrary to popular belief... Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are not the same people. Here is a quick compare and contrast of the two.
  • Santa Claus is a fictional character who lives at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus. His elves make toys in a workshop while Santa makes a list of who gets what. Then on Christmas Eve, he delivers presents to good little boys and girls while they are asleep. He usually leaves their presents under the tree and in stockings. Santa Claus also eats the cookies people set out for him.
  • Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, was a real person who lived from 270 to 343 AD. He was also known as Saint Nicholas of Myra, Nicholas of Bari, and Nicholas the Wonderworker. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children... having saved three children from being sold as slaves into marriage and bringing three others back to life after they were murdered. He was also known for his generosity and secret gift-giving to those in need.
  • It is believed that the folktale of Santa Claus is based on the good deeds of Saint Nicholas. After the Protestant Reformation in Europe, Saint Nicholas was relegated to the history books... except for in Holland where they kept his story alive and called him Sinterklaas. Later when Dutch families immigrated to the New World and took their traditions with them... Sinterklaas was anglicized into Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas... Sinterklaas... Santa Claus... you can see how the history of one evolved into the folktale of the other over time.

Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus

What is Saint Nicholas Day?

Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated each year on December 6th in honor of the original Saint Nicholas.  It is a day of food, family, and friends and a day in which people remember Saint Nicholas's generosity toward others.  Although people from different parts of the world celebrate Saint Nicholas Day differently, there are some similarities among them:
  • setting out shoes filled with carrots and hay for Saint Nicholas's horse in exchange for some gifts
  • receiving gifts such as fruits, nuts, chocolate, candies, cookies, coins, and small trinkets
  • giving and receiving oranges and as a symbol of the gold Saint Nicholas shared
  • sharing these gifts with family and friends
  • sharing a meal with family and friends

Saint Nicholas Day Traditions

As you can see, Saint Nicholas Day is about the spirit of giving and sharing with others... not the accumulation of loot!  Even though gifts are exchanged, the gifts are small, modest, and symbolic of Saint Nicholas's generosity.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Did you enjoy this blog post about Saint Nicholas Day? If so, check out these blog posts about other December holidays and traditions:

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