In Europe, St. Nicholas was the main character in Christmas celebrations for many hundreds of years and arrived much earlier than Christmas Eve, on December 5 or 6 (depending on the country).
Santa Claus as the icon we know is a more recent version of the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’, a character based upon St Nicholas. While many people will contest that they are different, I think that, for the purposes of this story, it doesn’t really matter what we call the jolly man delivering gifts and good cheer, we love him by any name!
Essentially, 5 & 6 December is known as Saint Nicholas day and is a small celebration aimed mainly at children. It is a wonderful little way to start Advent and build anticipation for what is to come.
One adorable tradition is that, on Saint Nicholas day, children leave their shoes out. Saint Nicholas then leaves small gifts inside/near their shoes ready for when they awaken the next morning. It is suggested that this is where the tradition of hanging stockings also came from
One of the more unconventional Christmas characters, Krampus is Santa’s sidekick in Bavaria and parts of Austria. It is his job to scare naughty children while Saint Nicholas delivers present to good children.
In northern Germany, Santa’s evil twin is known as Knecht Ruprecht, while slightly less scary look, the principle is the same so naughty children watch out!
These days, events like the annual Krampus run in Munich keep the tradition alive. It really is a quirky tradition!
Saint Nicholas was probably born around 245 C.E. in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey.
Very little historical evidence exists for the man who later became the Bishop of Myra and the patron saint of children, sailors, students, teachers, and merchants. He is credited with several miracles and his feast day is December 6, which is the main reason he is connected with Christmas.
Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Santa! Sometimes he can be maligned as a token of our consumer society, throughout history, he has also sometimes been seen as taking away from the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. In most ways however, he is the embodiment of all that is good about Christmas. A man who spends his life devoted to the service of others, to spreading love, goodwill and cheer to all. They are wonderful traits to emulate at this time of year.
Happy Saint Nicholas Day!