Today is St. Nicholas Day! Happy holidays from around the globe! This continental European holiday is celebrated every year in December. But who was this infamous St. Nick? How is he celebrated around the world? Read more to find out!
Happy St. Nicholas Day Babylon babes! It’s Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice time, but what of the lesser known holidays that happen around this magical time of year? Between Bodhi, Omisoka, Shab-e Yalda and more, December is a festive season for many around the world. Here at Babylon we strive to promote inclusivity and understanding across cultures, and what better way to do so than learn what and how people celebrate during the most wonderful time of the year? In this edition of happy holidays around the globe, we’ll be exploring St. Nicholas Day – a feasting celebration for many across Europe!
Feeling festive? Check out our other seasonal articles!
Who was St. Nicholas?
St. Nicholas of Myra is the patron saint of a multitude of groups: professions, cities, countries, etc. The most well known of these groups is — you guessed it — children! It was St. Nicholas’ generosity and travels that lead him to his current role as Santa Claus.
After St. Nicholas’ parents died, old St. Nick is said to have taken their money and distributed it amongst the poor. According to Michael the Archimandrite in his Life of Saint Nicholas, St. Nick is said to have heard of a devout man whose money was scoured away by satan himself and therefore had no money to pay his three daughters’ dowries, leaving them destitute. Hearing of this father’s plight St. Nicholas decided to help them, but being a modest man, St. Nicholas went to their house in the dark of night and threw a purse filled with gold coins through their window.
The next night St. Nick returned and threw another purse filled with gold through the window. On the third night, the father stayed awake, hopeful to meet this generous soul. As the third bag of coins was tossed through the window the father of three caught St. Nicholas. The father of three fell to his knees, thanking St. Nicholas but good ol’ Nick, being the modest man he was, ordered the father not to tell a single soul of his charity.
This quiet generosity is what lead St. Nicholas to his fabled North Pole estate where he makes toys for all the children and distributes them via reindeer-lead slay on Christmas eve. The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch word Sinterklaas which, when brought to New Amsterdam (New York) c. 1620, became Santa Claus.
How is St. Nicholas Day celebrated around the globe?
In parts of Northern Europe, particularly in Germanic countries, St. Nicholas Day is a time when children are given cookies, sweets, and gifts are often left in small bowls, boots, or stockings. On the evening of December 5th, children leave letters to St. Nicholas along with carrots for his horse or donkey. On the morning of the 6th, they awake to small presents and sweets left by the generous saint. Oranges and chocolate coins are common treats that represent those legendary purse fulls of gold.
In Albania, this holiday is commemorated with a massive feast. On December 5th, A candle will be lit and left in the window for St. Nick. Those observing this holiday will abstain from meat while preparing a feast of roasted lamb and pork to be served to guests after midnight.
In Eastern Slavic countries, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated as Nikulden on December 19th [determined by the Eastern Orthodox calendar] where families, friends, and neighbours gather for a meal of fish and two loaves of ceremonial bread which are blessed at church or at home. The host will wave incense over the table and then will lift and break the bread in celebration.
Across much of Europe, the tradition for St. Nicholas Day is accompanied by the fabled Krampus – a devil-like creature who punishes naughty children. On the eve of December 5th, Krampus comes and delivers a gift to the parents of naughty children: a rod to punish their unruly offspring. Yikes.
So there you have it! The first edition of Babylon Radio’s Happy Holidays from around the globe. Do you have a holiday you’d like us to feature? Mention it in the comments!
- Feature image: Photo by John Van De Maele on Flickr
- Ross Tucknott is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
- Roel van Deursen is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- jeffgauthier99 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0