St. Nicholas Day is a holiday that celebrates the historical St. Nicholas, the early Christian saint who served as a significant inspiration for Santa Claus, known in England as Father Christmas. The traditions associated with this holiday, which takes place on December 6, hearken back to the tales of Nicholas’s time as Bishop of Myra during the late third and early fourth century.
One of the most famous legends surrounding him involved his intervening in the life of three young women who wanted to be married. They had no money for dowries, so he decided to provide them with the money they needed. However, his modesty prevented him from giving the money to them directly. Instead, he tossed small bags of gold coins in through the window. It is from this tale that the modern day tradition of leaving chocolate coins comes from.
While Christmas is a time of lavish gift-giving, St. Nicholas Day is associated with more modest gifts. Children put out shoes or boots in the anticipation of awaking to find them filled with goodies from St. Nicholas. The gifts usually include chocolate coins, as well as real coins and other treats and small toys. It is a simple holiday that is celebrated with joy by young children throughout the world.
The day is celebrated differently in cultures throughout the world, though chocolate coins and other small gifts being placed in boots and shoes is a common element. Because of St. Nicholas’s association with unmarried women, there are several traditions that involve women who wish to get married. For instance, there is one that requires such women to attend morning mass on St. Nicholas Day and circle a column seven times in hopes that this will help her to find a husband. In some place, it is common to give gifts to women preparing for marriage on St. Nicholas Day.
Some of the traditions associated with the day aren’t quite as cheery. The krampus is a frightful creature with horns on his head who is said to emerge on St. Nicholas Day in order to punish children who have behaved badly throughout the year. One European city has a parade each year in which krampuses flood the streets and chase people, only to be driven off by St. Nicholas in a chariot laden with toys. It’s little wonder this gentle saint is so beloved by people all around the world!