Door 6: Saint Nicholas Day

The festive season is celebrated differently across the world. Find out who Saint Nicholas is and how he inspired the creation of Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas (15th March 270- 6th December 343) was a Christian bishop during the Roman Empire, most well-known for his kindness and support for the poor. He was born and raised by his wealthy family, to be leading a Christian life. After losing his parents at an early age he devoted his life to Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” and used all his family’s wealth for this mission. Still young, he was made Bishop of Myra for his dedication and good doing. 

The story of Saint Nicholas Day

Throughout history, there has been many legends and stories about the kindness of Saint Nicholas, but one particular legend created the Saint Nicholas day tradition. 

This story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value, a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas.’ (source) 

Saint Nicholas became the gift-bringer and saviour of children throughout much of history, and his story always encouraged children to pray and behave well throughout the year so he would visit them on the 6th of December (the anniversary of his passing away). In the 1600s after the Protestant Reformation saints like Nicholas fell out of favour and religious traditions needed a new gift-bringer and discipliner of children, which ended up falling on Jesus, therefore moving the gift-bringing to Christmas from the 6th of December. But the small Jesus couldn’t carry all those gifts, nor was he a mature, well-respected person to encourage good behaviour from children, so Jesus needed a helper. With time passing and the story shifting, eventually, Santa Klaus became from the scary helper to now the modern-day centre of attention for Christmas holidays who is neither scary nor disciplines children, but rather kindly encourages good behaviour. 

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus

Modern Days

In modern days by Western and Eastern European Catholic traditions, on the 5th of December, the night before Saint Nicholas day, children very carefully clean their best shoes and leave it on the window seal (or by the porch), with the hopes that he will visit overnight and leave their well deserved presents in there. for their good behaviour.

Most of the chocolates and sweets bought by families to fill up the shoes these days are branded with Santa Claus' imagery, as traditionally Jesus brings Christmas presents by the morning of 25th in these areas. Naughty children will often also receive coil or twigs in their shoes, so families can show Saint Nicholas' disapproval of their behaviour through the past year.

So today all OU students should check their cleanest shoes, to see if Saint Nicholas has made it to their home! What's it going to be? Sweets and chocolate or a bunch of twigs? Let us know...

Presents for Saint Nicholas day

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