Saint Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas of Myra is a popular Christian Saint among children across Europe because of his reputation as a bringer of gifts. Both the North American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas are legendary figures whose attributes derive from the myths surrounding St. Nicholas.

Santa Claus bag full of Christmas presents with Christmas lights.

St. Nicholas is known to be a bringer of gifts.

©iStockphoto.com/Dejan Ristovski

What Do People Do?

St. Nicholas Day is a popular occasion for children in many parts of Europe because children usually receive gifts on this day. Some European cities such as Bari, Italy recognize St. Nicholas as the patron saint and celebrate with different activities such as gift-giving, parades, feasts and festivals.

St. Nicholas is referred to by many names throughout Europe such as Sinterklaas in the Netherlands or Nikolaus in Germany. In the days leading up to December 6, children throughout Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot in front of the fireplace or the front door at night to find them filled with small presents the next morning. A larger amount of gifts is usually brought on the eve of St. Nicholas Day or December 5.

Public Life

St. Nicholas Day is a religious observance but not a nationwide public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Background

The legendary figure of St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who officiated as a bishop in 4th century Greece. During his lifetime he developed a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins in other people's shoes, which accounts for many of today's Christmas traditions that involve leaving gifts in shoes or boots.

Having inspired both the figure of the North American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas, St. Nicholas has in some countries been more recently joined on his visits to children's homes by an evil companion who punishes the naughty ones: in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and northern Italy, this personification of evil is called Krampus, in Germany Knecht Ruprecht, and in the Netherlands Zwarte Piet.

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