For years, St. Nicholas Day was celebrated in Europe, but now it’s celebrated more frequently here in the United States and Redwood City.
Saint Nicholas Day is the precursor to Christmas Day.
Saint Nicholas, also known as "Nikolaos of Myra," was a historic figure who was a saint and a Greek Bishop born in the third century in the village of Patara. Patara is a village that is on the southern coast of what is now Turkey.
Nicholas was from a very wealthy Christian family who obeyed the words of Jesus to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” Nicholas took all of his inheritance and did just that - he gave it away to the sick, needy, and the suffering. His calling to God was a lifelong endeavor, and Nicholas was made a Bishop of Myra at a very young age.
Saint Nicholas is considered a saint of generosity. He was known throughout the land as a helper to those in need. He adored children, and his passion was for sailors and ships.
The Romans incarcerated Nicholas for his faith. He died on Dec. 6 in 343 A.D. in Myra. His death became a day of celebration, and was called St. Nicholas Day.
What Saint Nicholas did, according to stories and legends passed down for centuries, was to arrive in town dressed in a bishop’s red robe and mitre along with his helper, Black Peter, and give gifts. These gifts are usually coins, gifts, cakes and cookies, placed in the children’s shoes or stockings hung from the mantel that are left out for Saint Nicholas. For the bad children, Black Peter would leave lumps of coal, potatoes or switches.
Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, Dec. 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds.
Dec. 6th is still the main day for gift-giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands, St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.
The Dutch took the tradition to New Amsterdam (New York City), where he was transformed into Santa Claus. In Britain he was replaced with Father Christmas.
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