St. Nicholas Day is one of my favorite days of the entire year for three reasons. It’s my church’s patronal feast day and we generally have some sort of celebration. My husband is also named for St. Nicholas, so we get to celebrate him, too. And, it almost feels like a secret holiday because not many people celebrate it in the States!
I think this is the year we should change this. Let’s everybody celebrate the day! (less than one month to get ready–it’s December 6th)
Orthodoxy & St. Nicholas
Orthodox people celebrate St. Nicholas day because we are remembering the life of a saint. St. Nicholas was very holy from his birth; there are stories of his fasting, prayer, Scripture reading, and healing from a very young age. He became a priest and later a bishop, and was a gentle and loving leader of his Churches. Although he was gentle with his parishioners, he was extremely strong and courageous in standing up against evil and heretical teachings. He is one saint who died peacefully at an old age, leaving a legacy of good works for Christ.
There are many other stories that surround the life of St. Nicholas. One of the most well-known is how he rescued three girls for marriage by providing their poor family money for their dowries. He did this in a most unusual way, by throwing sacks of gold coins in the window at night. You can see how this easily turned into the tradition of Santa Claus over the years. Sacks of money or gifts, nighttime, through the window, errr, chimney, a bishop’s red vestments and there you have it!
St. Nicholas is also remembered as the patron saint of many people, most especially sailors. This is due to a voyage he took by boat. During the journey there were great storms and through St. Nicholas’ prayers, all of the sailors were saved!
St. Nicholas Day Around the World
While this holy day is not much celebrated in the west, it is a very special day in Europe and the Middle East! There are many, many traditions for St. Nicholas Day, depending on which country you live in. Just as the story of St. Nicholas has contributed to the development of our American tradition of Santa Claus, his life has also contributed to many European traditions as well.
There are several common threads of St. Nicholas Day celebrations throughout Europe and the Middle East. Attendance at mass or liturgy to remember the life of St. Nicholas and to pray for his intercessions is probably the most common. The other tradition is that of gift-giving; in some countries this is the day for gifts–rather than at Christmas. There are also special baked goods to honor this saint, although depending on the country many are simple with fruit, as his feast day falls during the Advent fast.
My favorite tradition is that of leaving shoes out for St. Nicholas to leave a small gift. I believe this tradition comes from the story of the young girls and the gold coins. Perhaps the coins fell into their shoes by the window? At any rate, children put their shoes by the window or door and ask St. Nicholas to leave gifts for them! Parents get the joy of filling their little shoes, commonly with chocolate coins and tangerines!
Our St. Nicholas Traditions
One of my favorite parts of parenting is creating and finding traditions for our daughter and family. I’ve been thinking a lot about what our St. Nicholas traditions will look like, and I”m excited to start this year!
We’ll be attending liturgy at our church to pray for intercessions from St. Nicholas. Our Church will also have celebrations to honor him, usually the Sunday before or after (if you live in the area, you can join us! or look for a local Orthodox Church…there are many that are named for this saint).
I will also sort through our Christmas decorations and find our St. Nicholas books and icons. We have this book, which is for a little bit older children. I also have my eye on this one, which looks like it would be easier for younger kids. We’ll practice saying his troparion during our daily prayers (and when Baba is home he can chant it!).
One of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is playing with our wooden crèche with all of my siblings. I knew this was something I wanted for our family, too! Of course, I fell in love with a beautiful set, so our tradition is going to be adding pieces to it each year at St. Nicholas Day! (this year we’ve got a stable, St. Joseph, St. Mary, and baby Jesus to start us off)
And of course, we’ll leave our shoes out for St. Nicholas! We’ll leave a small toy and some fruit; her shoes aren’t very big!
Now, I’d love to know: do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? If so, what are your traditions? If not, I hope this is the year you choose to start!
The truth of things has revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith,
An icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance;
For this cause thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty.
O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.