While most people know about the customs surrounding Christmas, St. Nicholas Day is a less familiar December holiday that has some wonderful traditions of its own. From leaving shoes out to be filled with treats to having a delicious holiday feast, there are lots of fascinating ways to celebrate this lesser-known holiday.
Origin of St. Nicholas Day
St. Nicholas Day is named after the 4th century bishop Nicholas of Myra, who was famous for his generous spirit. He was also the patron saint of children and spent his life helping those who were in need. Although history doesn't offer much information about the life of Nicholas of Myra, his generosity inspired traditions around the world.
Traditionally celebrated on December 6 in most European countries, this special holiday is all about giving. Many people begin the celebrations the night before on December 5, similar to how Christmas Eve is celebrated the night before Christmas. It's important to note that countries that follow the Julian calendar celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 19.
St. Nicholas Day Traditions
St. Nicholas Day is primarily a Christian holiday, but people celebrate it in lots of different ways and in many places in Europe and Asia. There are some fascinating traditions that may seem familiar to people who celebrate Christmas.
Gift-Giving, Sinterklaas, and Empty Shoes
The night before St. Nicholas Day, children put their empty shoes near their hearths or entryways to be filled with treats by Sinterklaas. If this tradition sounds like hanging a stocking by the chimney for Santa, that's because it's likely the source of this modern Christmas tradition. Sinterklaas is the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, and if you say it out loud, you can hear how it also sounds like "Santa Claus." St. Nicholas goes by various names in different cultures, but he is usually a character of generosity.
On December 5, Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas fills children's stockings or shoes with candy, gingerbread, chocolate, and other treats. Older kids and adults often exchange small wrapped gifts, and in some countries, unmarried women also get little gifts.
Dressing Up and Charity
In Holland, adults sometimes dress as Sinterklaas. Children sing songs loudly and wait for a knock at the door. If they've been good, they see adults dressed as Sinterklaas delivering bags of treats.
One modern tradition associated with St. Nicholas Day also involves dressing up. In Germany, children sometimes wear costumes and go door-to-door encouraging charity and collecting donations for those less fortunate.
St. Nicholas Day Feast
Like many holidays, food is an important part of St. Nicholas Day traditions around the world. The exact menu differs with the location, but most people have special wine, cookies, and breads. There's often a main dish such as pork, lamb, soup, or German pancakes.
Some cultures have the meal on the night before St. Nicholas Day, while others have it on the actual holiday. In many countries, the day before St. Nicholas Day is one of fasting, so the feast on the actual holiday holds even more significance.
Ideas for a Modern St. Nicholas Day Celebration
Even if you've never celebrated St. Nicholas Day before, this can be a wonderful addition to your holiday season. There are lots of ways to create your own traditions that are inspired by St. Nicholas Day. Try one of these ideas:
- Collect gifts for charity on December 6, which leaves plenty of time to deliver them by Christmas.
- Have children leave their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with little treats.
- Write special notes to each of your family members and exchange the notes on St. Nicholas Day.
- Have a traditional feast on December 6 with roast pork, holiday cookies, and other delicious foods.
- Send out greeting cards for St. Nicholas Day with special messages.
Greetings for a Happy St. Nicholas Day
If you're hoping to wish someone a happy St. Nicholas Day, there are lots of ways you can do it. Try some of these example messages if you're sending a note to friends and family:
- In the spirit of generosity and love, we hope you have a wonderful St. Nicholas Day.
- Here's hoping you wake up to shoes filled with treats this St. Nicholas Day.
- I hope Sinterklaas brings you lots of treasures this St. Nicholas Day.
- Thinking of you with love during the feast of St. Nicholas.
- Wishing you a St. Nicholas Day filled with blessings.
- I'm thinking of your generous and loving spirit today and every day. Happy St. Nicholas Day!
- May your shoes overflow with blessings this St. Nicholas Day.
A Special Holiday Around the World
Exchanging gifts and eating a meal together are just part of this important day. Whether you're celebrating St. Nicholas Day for the first time or the hundredth, this is a special holiday that honors what is best about humanity.