Who Was St. Nick?

Have you been good this year? Or have you been bad? Maybe a little bit of both? There’s one person who knows for sure.

That’s correct, we’re referring to Santa Claus. Every year, he creates a list — and checks it twice — to find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

But several weeks before Christmas, there’s another day that many children around the world look forward to. The day is Saint Nicholas Day, and it happens every year on December 6.

“St. Nick’s Day,” as it’s sometimes known, is widely celebrated in Europe, as well as many communities in the United States that have strong German, Polish, Belgian, or Dutch heritage. The day honors the legend of the kindness and generosity of Saint Nicholas.

Nikolaos (that’s “Nicholas” in Greek) was born in 270 C.E. in a small Greek village on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. He devoted his life to serving God and grew up to become the bishop of Myra.

Nikolaos was believed to have performed many miracles during his lifetime. In fact, he was often referred to as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker.” According to Christian tradition, Nikolaos was declared a saint in recognition of his numerous miracles and good deeds.

Saint Nicholas passed away on December 6, 343 C.E. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration — Saint Nicholas Day — on December 6 each year after that.

Saint Nicholas also had a reputation for giving anonymous gifts by placing coins in people’s shoes during the night. Today, as per tradition, children place their shoes outside their bedroom doors on the evening of December 5.

Saint Nicholas visits overnight. Then, on the morning of December 6, children wake up to find their shoes filled with small gifts and candy.

The celebration of Saint Nicholas Day in early December, along with his reputation as a gift-giver, has led many to associate Saint Nicholas with Santa Claus. Some people even refer to Santa Claus by the nickname (pun fully intended) “St. Nick” from time to time.

Of course, St. Nick isn’t the only other name Santa Claus is known by. Around the world, Santa Claus has many different names.

If you ever find yourself in a foreign country in late December, it may be useful to know what Santa is called in that part of the world. Here’s a small selection of a few of the names Santa is known by around the world:

  • Albania — Babadimri
  • Belgium — Pere Noel
  • Chile — Viejo Pascuero (“Old Man Christmas”)
  • England — Father Christmas
  • Italy — Babbo Natale
  • Norway — Julenissen (“Christmas gnome”)
  • Russia — Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”)
  • Sweden — Jultomten (“Christmans brownie”)

Try It Out

Are you prepared to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day? Be sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Have you ever celebrated Saint Nicholas Day? If not, why not give it a try? On December 5, place your shoes outside your door. Make sure to inform your parents why your shoes are there instead of being put away! In the morning, check your shoes first thing to see if Saint Nicholas has visited. Did he leave you any coins or candy? We certainly hope so!
  • What other holiday traditions does your family practice? Depending on where you live, there are various special holiday traditions. Have you ever heard of the Christmas pickle legend? According to an ancient German tradition, you are supposed to hang a pickle as the final decoration on your Christmas tree. This task should be performed by your parents and the pickle should be well-hidden among the branches. On Christmas Day, the first child to find the Christmas pickle receives a special blessing for the upcoming year and an additional gift. Perhaps you can initiate such a tradition with your family this year.
  • When it comes to presents, it’s true that giving is better than receiving. You can even experience this firsthand during Christmas. Think about the people in your life who make every day better. Whether they are your parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, or teachers, there are many people who make our lives WONDERful on a daily basis. Make a list of these WONDERful individuals and then think of a small gesture of appreciation that you can give to each person this Christmas. It doesn’t have to cost anything. A simple handwritten note expressing heartfelt thanks can be a gift that will be cherished for years to come!

Sources of Wonder

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas
  • http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/
  • http://www.stnicksday.com/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus
  • http://www.myuniversalfacts.com/2006/11/names-for-santa-claus-around-world.html

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