Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

Hidden amongst the first days of December and the beginning of the holiday extravaganza, noise and bustle, is a holiday most Americans are unaware.  This special day, along with the Advent season, became a tradition of our days in Austria.  And is the namesake where Father Christmas and Santa Claus get their beginnings....

Nicholas was born in the third century in the small village of Patara, once a part of Greece, but now is modern day southern Turkey.  He was born to wealthy parents who raised him as a devout Christian.  His parents, however, died in an epidemic when Nicholas was very young.  His uncle, a bishop in the church, went on to raise Nicholas. This young boy spent the rest of his life obeying Jesus' words to give to the poor and needy, the sick and suffering.

There are stories and legends that follow his life.  One interesting one I found in Wikipedia:

In his most famous exploit,[18] a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him, but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Thus, the origins of our own Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas was a real man, however, revered amongst Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  He gets his reputation of gift-giving due to the fact that much of what he gave to the poor and needy, he did in secret (or tried to).  He died on December 6th, 323 AD in Myra, Greece.  The day became a holiday celebrating a man who selflessly gave and he is honored in many Catholic nations today as the protector and helper of those in need.

December 6th is celebrated today as a primary day of gift-giving before Christmas.  Children set out their shoes the night before and they awake in the morning to find them filled with candy, nuts, oranges, etc.  (the shoes come from another story where Nicholas used to put a gold coin in the shoes of children)  Another aspect of the "celebration" is the part where if you were not "good" you woke to find a lump of clay in your boots instead of goodies.  (that naughty or nice thing :)

I lived in a missions community during my time in Austria.  We had such fun with this day.  We would all put our shoes out at night outside our door and then take turns going around in the middle of the night to put goodies in our friends' footware.  Once we discovered our shoes in the morning, we would all celebrate with a festive brunch and the joy of being together, laughing, telling stories and singing and worshipping the God who is the ultimate Giver.  

My most memorable St. Nicholas day was the year my roommate and I got fooled.  We lived in a small room at the top of the small "castle" which was our home on Schneedorflstrasse (little snow village street :).  We had a room at the end of a very long and narrow hallway.  Only one other person lived at the opposite end of that hallway.  My incredibly fun roommate and I decided to put out not only one pair of shoes, but every shoe, boot, and slipper we owned.  Understand we are two young women in our twenties...have lived in Europe for years, and I lived in Italy for 3 years during a time when the dollar was good and leather shoes were inexpensive.  You get the idea...we had LOTS of shoes.  Out went the shoes lining the long hallway and off we went to bed.  It was so fun lying in bed and hearing the giggles and sometimes loud laughing of those who came to fill our shoes.   It was a great night.....then came morning :)  Opening our door to find our shoes filled....every last one of them with coal!  There wasn't a candy or nut in sight!   We laughed so hard and enjoyed our friends more than we could say!  Of course, we found out later who it was that took all our candy and filled the shoes.....our neighbor in the hallway lived in "fear" the rest of his days on the top floor of our little castle :)

December should be filled with celebration....there are scores of those who have gone before us that we honor for their giving and generosity.  Enjoy St. Nicholas day...maybe for the first time....and bless someone today - perhaps in secret - but give out of the abundance of your heart and an expression of the greatest Gift of all during this season. 


Great story telling Debby! I enjoyed this very much!
Joanie Herwig

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