Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Let’s Share Saint Nicholas Stories

Thank you so much Claudia for bringing this up! You know I love Christmas traditions, of all kinds, and I will take any opportunity to talk Christmassy.

Saint Nicholas! Saint Nicholas of Myra was an olden times Christian who was very generous, in one of his most famous stories he wanted to give money to a poor man to may his daughter’s dowries, but he wanted to do it in secret, so he threw a bag of gold coins through his window in the middle of the night and it was there when he woke up. Just in general he liked to give away his wealth, but in secret in the middle of the night so it would surprise people when they woke up. And his feast day is December 6th. All of which lets him kind of mix and match with the various older pagan “spirit of Solstice” sort of traditions and thus create this festive holiday gift giving person.

Three Impoverished Maidens ::: St. Nicholas Center

Saint Nicholas is related to Santa, but they are totally different people. Saint Nicholas has a long red robe and leaves treats in children’s shoes on December 6th. Santa has a red pant suit outfit, and leaves presents in stockings and under the tree on Christmas Eve. Saint Nicholas comes into the house any old way, Santa has to come down a chimney. Just, totally different.

St. Nick or Santa? Old World and New World traditions weave confusion

When my mom’s mom was little, her family would do Saint Nicholas day, and not so much Santa. They did Saint Nicholas a bit when my Mom was little, but candy in shoes just can’t compete with Santa bringing actual presents. Plus the whole Santa PR campaign with all the stories and advertisements and stuff.

I don’t think we ever did Saint Nicholas when I was growing up, he was left behind by Santa. But I do have a friend who went the other way. When she was growing up, her grandmother had a rule that if you put your shoes outside the room at night at Grandma’s house, elves would fill them with candy. Just part of the magic of Grandma’s house, could happen any night of the year. She’s a grandma now and is doing the same thing with her granddaughters.

Anyway, Saint Nicholas! Is he a thing in your family? If so, what do you do with him? Do you do Saint Nicholas and Santa or just one or the other? Do you think of them as the same person?

19 thoughts on “Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Let’s Share Saint Nicholas Stories

  1. Santa with a mitre hat?The popular Indian image of Santa is much different,stripped of any religious background.Perhaps more in line with Christmas in Japan,from what I have gathered from cartoons and anime.

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    • This picture is Saint Nicholas, who is different from Santa. He was a Bishop, which is why the Mitre hat in his presentations.

      Santa has no religious background in America either, just a cheerful person in a suit.

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  2. When I was little, we only had presents on Saint Nicholas day. Not only sweets but real presents+sweets+oranges (oranges were something special in 80′-90′ Poland). There weren’t gifts on Christmas. Later, thanks to American movies and culture, we learnt about Santa and wanted presents on Christmas too. But my mom said it’s too much and that we must choose or 6th December or Christmas Eve. We chose Christmas Eve.

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    • Ha! My Mom got both! But not presents-presents on Saint Nicholas Day, just candy I think.

      I didn’t know some kids only got presents on Saint Nicholas Day, I thought it was all like my Mom, you celebrate both. What do you do for your son? Is there any Saint Nicholas anything, or is it all Santa and Christmas?

      On Sun, Dec 6, 2020 at 1:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It’s all Santa and Christmas because my son birthday is 5th December so he has those brand new toys and cake and doesn’t need another gifts the day after. Then 3 weeks later it’s Christmas – another presents, and on January 6th (Epiphany) kids in Italy get Calza della Befana – Stocking full of sweets and little toys like those:

        But my nephews in Poland have presents on Saint Nicholas (toys and sweets) and on Christmas Eve (more expensive toys)

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        • Do the cousins communicate with each other? Isn’t it confusing that Saint Nicholas visits one and not the other?

          On Sun, Dec 6, 2020 at 3:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • My son is happy with his birthday presents and doesn’t think much about St Nicholas and his gifts. But he know this polish tradition.

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  3. `
    I attended a German festival thing in the U.S. last December and they had BOTH a Santa Claus and a Saint Nichols. They took turns meeting the children and having photos taking. I doubt many of the children (or adults) understood the difference.

    Very confusing!

    Where’s the mitre?

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  4. From what I gather, Saint Nicholas was the first one to reward good Christian children in December. Then Reformation happened, and good Protestant children didn’t revere saints anymore but still wanted presents. That’s when the Christkind was invented – at least in the incarnation where the term doesn’t really mean Baby Jesus anymore but an angel-like gift-bringing Christmas Child. In some regions, the two figures then merged into Father Christmas or someone similar, who brought the presents on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. In German, he’s the “Christmas Man”, Weihnachtsmann. American Santa is weird for essentially being that merged figure but taking his name from the saint.

    I think most German kids nowadays have the Weihnachtsmann (red plush, beard) visit them on Christmas Eve, while Saint Nicholas (mitre hat, bishop’s staff) fills a boot or a fancy plate with sweets during the night from December 5th to 6th. Then again, those chocolate “Nicholases” don’t ever tend to wear the bishop’s get-up. My family always had the Christkind tradition, though. And I remember that when I was a kid, Saint Nicholas used to have a Black companion, “Knecht Ruprecht”, who would carry the cane for the naughty children. That part may have spilled over from the Netherlands close by.

    My sister lives there now and apparently “Sinterklaas” on December 5th is still the bigger holiday there, with big rounds of “Secret Santa” and self-composed poems. Kids have of course started to finagle Christmas presents out of their parents, too.

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    • This is FASCINATING!!!! From America, I knew that my family a 100 years ago had different traditions, but I thought the American “Santa” had taken over the world by now and the older traditions were barely remembered.

      So, Protestant era is also when the celebration with gifts shifted to December 25 instead of 6? It’s interesting thinking of Christmas as gifts divided from the Jesus part. Does Christkind bring presents in the middle of the night? Because I know my German family used to celebrate with the tree arriving and being decorated plus presents all happening on Christmas Eve. So the kids would be kept out of the room and then let in after it was all set up to see this magical fairyland late at night. But then Christkind would be running around mid-afternoon with trees and gifts and things so it would be ready by dinner time, and you’d think someone would see him. Or maybe I am over thinking this.

      In Germany, is it presents on the morning of December 25th or the evening of December 24th? That was the biggest change in my family. My grandparents were all raised with presents on Christmas Eve (and my grandfather remembers hating it because all his American friends got presents Christmas morning and he was WEIRD). And then by the 1950s, the social pressure was all for morning gifts and we switched. Did that happen in Germany? Or is it still night time presents?

      On Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 1:37 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yeah, Christmas Eve is still very much the main event here in Germany. I’d actually typed out all the details of my family’s traditions, but now the computer ate it and I don’t have the time to redo it. Some other time, hopefully.

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        • Huh! We can’t even find a church in walking distance that does a midnight mass any more.

          On Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 1:53 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Honestly, I just like the magic of all those tales and events (whatever country/nation)…and that’s exactly what the kids like too (beside the gifts the gentle “Christchild” secretly brings ;)). I wouldn’t even celebrate Christmas without kids around although I would enjoy the celebratory mood of others.
    “Farmhand Rupert” is like a servant to St. Nicolas who decides if a kid should get positive recognition or a kind of punishment.
    As a small kid, I only got fruits and sweets, then times changed and one also got gifts…I prefer to put a mix into the shoes the kids have cleaned the evening before…a small amount of everything (fruit, sweet, playful, practical)…and I give also some sweets to the adults if they put their cleaned shoes outside the door 🙂

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    • When I was a kid, we had elaborate Santa based traditions. We would write him letters on Christmas Eve and throw them in the fire so they would burn up and go to him, we would put out cookies and carrots and milk, and on Christmas morning there would be magical unlabeled presents that were from “Santa”.

      Because of the way the generations fall in my family, we’ve had about 15 years now of all “adult” Christmasses, and you know, it’s really nice! We don’t do the elaborate Santa stuff or the magical surprises, but we still exchange presents on Christmas morning and go to the midnight service when we can (so few midnight services now!) and just sort of make it a special day in a new way. I always thought, when I was a kid, that Christmas was best for children. But it’s really nice for adults too!!!!

      On Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 3:13 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I celebrate a mix of traditions. My parents were from Eastern Europe so we used to put shoes out for St Nicholas to fill with sweets and chocolates, and on Christmas Eve us kids were taken out for a walk after dinner (it’s summer here) and Lo and behold the Christ child left presents undder the tree. All my friends thought the St Nik thing was slightly odd and they all had to wait till Christmas morning for their presents, so I always felt it was a slight advantage, like being served first on a plane.
    Now I’m the adult, still putting the family shoes out on the night of the 5th for St Nik, and it’s my kids and husband who think it’s slightly odd, but they scoff the rewards anyway. We do Christmas just the traditional Australian way, Santa leaves presents overnight.

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    • I can’t decide which would be worst, having sleepy kids who are up way too late and getting hopped up on presents, or having sleepy kids who wake up at dawn and insist on presents before breakfast.

      On Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 1:56 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. I waited for La Befana with my Italian father. Supposedly, she was an old lady who put oranges and candy in your stocking if you were good. But our real Christmas was celebrated on the 24th, La Vigilia. It was a meatless day so we had family over for a huge meal of seven fishes: shrimp, sardines, clams, cod, eel, anchovies, mussels, and whiting. Then we went to midnight mass, came home, and since it was now Christmas Day, brought out the meatballs and sausage.

    My mother was Muslim but that didn’t stop her from getting down with the spirit.

    My husband was Jamaican, and that added a whole new tradition: coconut and jerk everything, rice and peas, and rum punch.

    I miss them all.

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    • Oh! I was just looking this up! I kind of want to have fish for Christmas dinner this year, because it is light and tasty and won’t give you a tummy ache after a full day of rich food. So I was looking for a fish-eating tradition, and by golly there was one!

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