Saturday, December 1st, 2012
St. Nicholas Day: December 6
St. Nicholas Day is a popular celebration for children across many European countries. St. Nicholas is the predecessor to Santa Claus and has a reputation for his generosity. As legend has it, he leaves children presents if they are nice and coal if they are naughty in their shoes.
St. Nicholas lived in what was formerly Greece and is now Turkey in the third century A.D. He is most commonly known as the patron saint of children; but he is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers and those wrongly imprisoned. His rich parents died while he was young and left him a large inheritance. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist those in need, following Jesus’s words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas derive from the legend of St. Nicholas. He is recognized by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated slightly differently depending on the country. In the Netherlands, the eve of Saint Nicholas (December 5) is the primary occasion for gift exchange. Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace and sing songs in anticipation of a small present in their shoes. On the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) brings presents to every child that has behaved well. The presents are delivered by Sinterklaas’ assistant, Zwarte Piete (Black Pete), who has a black-painted face and is dressed in traditional clothing dating back two centuries. According to the legend, if a child had been naughty, Zwarte Piete puts the naughty children in sacks, and Sinterklaas takes them to Spain, from where it is believed Sinterklaas originates.
In Germany, children put a boot or shoe called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside their door on the night of December 5. St. Nicholas fills the shoes with gifts and sweets if the children have been good. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (rute) in their boots instead.
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