By Kelsey Murzyn
One of my favorite traditions growing up was (and still is) St. Nick’s Day. Finding an orange and chocolate coins in my shoes the morning of December 6th each year meant extra time spent with family before school that day and a reminder that Christmas was just around the corner. Although my small gifts this year (delivered to my college apartment) were a coffee mug and Reese’s Pieces, these simple gifts remind me that the holiday season is upon us and my family, even 90 miles away, is still very much present in my life.
Although widely celebrated in Europe, most regions of the United States have never heard of St. Nicholas Day. Wisconsinites are, in fact, some of the only American citizens who do celebrate St. Nick’s, a result of the heavy German and Dutch heritages of our state. St. Nicholas is the Patron Saint of children and giver of small gifts in the Catholic Church, though as the holiday has developed, those of Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed Christian faiths also may take part.
The legend of St. Nicholas of Myra is that he secretly assisted a man whom was so impoverished that he had agreed to sell his three daughters into slavery by leaving a bag of gold with enough to save one child each night for three nights in a row. It is said that the bags of gold landed in shoes left to dry by the fire, hence the tradition of leaving out shoes or hanging stockings. Some variations of the story state that St. Nicholas left balls of gold, which is why oranges are a common gift on this day.
Children celebrate St. Nicholas Day by placing their shoes or hanging their stockings near their hearth or door the night before. In the morning, they wake to find small gifts such as chocolate coins, oranges, apples, and other simple gifts. Growing up, my brother and I received an ornament to place on the Christmas tree each year.
You may be thinking to yourself that St. Nick sounds very similar to Santa Claus. You’d be correct. The idea of “Father Christmas,” known as Santa, come from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas: Sinterklaas. Many aspects of Santa are based upon attributes of St. Nicholas.
Communities may celebrate St. Nicholas Day by performing small acts of charity in order to make another person’s day special. The focus of this holiday is about showing appreciation and giving rather than receiving. These simple acts help to preserve a focus on the true meaning of the Advent weeks leading up to Christmas.