You better watch out, you better not cry … St. Nicholas is coming to town! Tomorrow is St. Nicholas’ feast day, and while his ‘alter ego’ Santa Claus is best known for bringing gifts, Catholics around the world will celebrate the real St. Nicholas by leaving their shoes out tonight, and finding them filled with treats on St. Nicholas Day! If you’ve never celebrated St. Nicholas Day before, here is the real story of Old St. Nick.
Who was St. Nicholas?
St. Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in what is now modern-day Turkey. Raised as a Christian, his parents died when he was very young, and he used his large inheritance to help the poor, the sick, and the needy. He was ordained Bishop of Myra, and was known for his generosity, his love of children, and for bringing secret gifts to those in need.
Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council, during which he famously lost his temper and slapped Arius across the face in an argument about the nature of the Holy Trinity. As a bishop, Nicholas was persecuted under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, suffering exile and imprisonment, and died on December 6th sometime in the middle of the 4th century.
How do we celebrate St. Nicholas Day?
One of the oldest and most popular St. Nicholas Day traditions is for children to leave their shoes by the fireplace or outside their bedroom, so that “St. Nicholas” can fill them with treats while they sleep.
Where does this tradition come from?
Legend has it that there was a poor man with three daughters, who had no money for his daughters’ dowry. Without a dowry, his daughters were in danger of being sold into slavery, so St. Nicholas threw three bags of gold coins down their chimney (or through their window). Thus, he saved the young girls and earned himself a reputation as a giver of gifts. Leaving shoes out to be filled at night is a way of re-enacting this legend of St. Nicholas’ good deed.
What are some other ways to celebrate?
While chocolate is nice, St. Nicholas Day is all about celebrating the generosity of this great saint. Think of some ways that you can be generous with your friends, family, and community. You can give to a loved one or give to a charity. But the best way to celebrate St. Nicholas Day is to go to Mass and pray for the grace to be as holy and generous as the real Old St. Nick.