The Institute for Christian Formation
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Feast Day (optional memorial): December 6
St. Nicholas with scenes from his life
St. Catherine's Monastery
On December 6 we celebrate the feast day of Saint Nicholas. Even though this feast is an optional memorial on our liturgical calendar, Saint Nicholas is one of the best known Advent Saints, and perhaps one of the most widely known of all the saints! It has even been said that aside from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Saint Nicholas has been depicted by more artists than any other saint. While there are numerous legends about Saint Nicholas, we actually have very few historical facts about his life. In fact, about the only thing we know for certain is that in the fourth century he was the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, in what is now the country of Turkey.
Saint Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated around the world by both Eastern and Western Christians. Numerous traditions for celebrating Saint Nicholas’ Day have developed over the years. Perhaps one of
St. Catherine's Monastery
Mid 13th century
the best known traditions is that of leaving shoes (or stockings) out on the eve of this feast day in anticipation of a visit from Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is known as a gift-giver. One legend tells of a family with three daughters. The family was poor, and the father could not afford to pay the dowries required for his daughters to marry. If they didn’t marry, they would be forced into prostitution/slavery to earn money. When Nicholas heard about this family’s plight, the legend says he visited the house three times, each time tossing a bag of gold into the house through a window. There was a bag of gold for each daughter’s dowry. It is due to this legend that when Saint Nicholas “visits” homes today, he often leaves gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins or tangerines in the shoes or stockings, symbolizing the bags of gold tossed into the home of the family with three daughters. Candy canes are also often left, as they are shaped like his Bishop’s crosier.
We have legends about Nicholas’s young life before he was a bishop, and legends of his life after he became a bishop, and even legends about miracles that occurred after his death. Yes, Nicholas is also renowned as a miracle worker, or a wonder worker. He is said to have saved children from harm and death, to have calmed the seas to save the lives of sailors, and to have interceded for the release of those falsely imprisoned. He is the patron saint of children, and sailors, and prisoners, as well as the countries of Russia and Greece, to name just a few of his patronages.
In the 11th century, relics of Saint Nicholas were transferred from Asia Minor to Bari, Italy, where a church named for Saint Nicholas was soon built. Watch the video below for a glimpse into the celebration of Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day in Bari, Italy.
There are numerous books written about Saint Nicholas. One of my personal favorites is “The Legend of Saint Nicholas” by Demi (ISBN 0-689-84681-9). This book incorporates the various legends of Nicholas’s life from infancy onwards. The book’s bright and lavish iconographic illustrations are a delight to the eyes and provide a wonderful visual telling of the story to accompany the text.
I love to celebrate Saint Nicholas’s Feast Day each year, and I hope you will, as well. I set out my Saint Nicholas icons and books, and enjoy Advent hymns as I prepare “visits” from Saint Nicholas for friends. Visit the Saint Nicholas Center web site for everything you want to know about Saint Nicholas and how to celebrate his feast day. Kudos to the owners of this site for gathering together in one place so much information and resources about Saint Nicholas! There is an entire children's section on this site, and they have an on line store to purchase St. Nicholas items, as well. And don't miss the recipes! HOBI Cookie Molds sells traditional cookie molds, which can be used for both baking and crafts. They have several traditional Saint Nicholas cookie molds. You can also purchase the book, "Baking with Cookie Molds," at this site. In addition, you can also learn how to make traditional springerle cookies in these molds by watching the video below.
Don't forget to send St. Nicholas Day wishes to your friends and family! Pass on the link to this St. Nicholas web page of ours, as well!
Children can download a Saint Nicholas mini-poster to color at the Loyola Press web site. At this same site, children can also make a brief online Saint Nicholas retreat. Why not purchase a St. Nicholas icon for your home and/or as a St. Nicholas Day gift? Skete.com has a large assortment of traditional Saint Nicholas icons from which you can choose. I have purchased numerous icons from them and am amazed at their selection.