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Tues. Dec. 5, 2017: St. Nicholas Day

December 5, 2017

chocolate santas

 

Actually, St. Nicholas DAY is tomorrow. Tonight is the night — the night where we put out our shoes, and tomorrow morning, discover them filled with treats. Before you say “ewww” — sometimes there are special shoes (I have actual wooden shoes bought in Volendam, Netherlands), or, at the very least, the treats come in little bags. So, no, they’re not all sweaty and gross.

St. Nicholas Day is a family tradition that I’ve chosen to keep and celebrate in my own life, even thought I’m not much on saints and what they represent in organized religion. It’s something my family celebrated ever since I can remember, something my parents celebrated when they grew up in Europe.

Nikolaos was actually a Greek bishop in Myra, Turkey, and buried in San Nicola, Bari, Italy. He was called “The Wonderworker” and known for helping the needy.

The whole “filling stockings” came about as the legend of a poor man with three daughters who hung their stockings by the fire. St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and it landed in a stocking, providing the dowries for marriage. From then on, any gift from an unknown giver was attributed to this bishop. He was also known at the patron saint of children and sailors.

As a living man, he was exiled from Turkey by the Emperor. In 1087, his bones were stolen by Italian sailors and reburied in the church bearing his name in Italy.

It’s likely sailors took the legends with them when they returned home, and that’s how the stories spread through Europe. In some traditions, Sinterklaas (as he’s known in the Netherlands) has a sidekick, the dark-skinned “Black Peter” helping him deliver toys, candy, and oranges to those deemed “good.” And coal to those deemed “bad.” Remember, in those days, oranges were rare in many parts of the world, and sailors depended on them to stave off scurvy. Another indication that sailors contributed to the evolving legends.

That evolved further into travelling by sleigh, and horses transformed into reindeer who then began to fly. The UK started calling him “Father Christmas” and moving his gift-giving to later in December.

There are dozens of conflicting legends from which to choose. It’s fun to read an array of them to see where they differ, what’s similar, and how they are a snapshot of what was needed by the people of the time.

Our family celebrates St. Nicholas and Santa Claus as two different figures. St. Nicholas comes on the night of December 5th and fills the shoe left out for him. Santa Claus (who I consider the personification of the Spirit of Giving), delivers the big stuff on the night of the 24th.

Both figures are a reminder that there is still kindness in the world, how it is important for each of us to personify the Spirit of Giving whenever we can, and that we need to remember to give thanks.

Next post will be for the Winter Solstice, December 21.

Blessings!

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