Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Who was Saint Nicholas?

When I was a little girl, on the eve of December 6, my mother would always tell the family to put their shoes in front of the fireplace. If we'd been behaving, there would be an orange and some candy the next morning. If not, we'd receive a piece of coal or maybe nothing...but that never happened. Mom said these gifts came from Saint Nicholas. It was a test, to see if we needed to improve by the time Christmas morning came. I guess it was similar to the current 'elf on a shelf' craze.

Here's an image of Saint Nicholas. Notice the oranges and his red/green robe. Look familiar?

Here's what I found in my research.

Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 C.E. He came from a wealthy family, always giving away his money to the poor. He soon became a priest. After his parents died, he used his inheritance to help even more people but only traveled in the night, in secret. By the time he was made the Bishop of Myra, in the city of Denre in present day Turkey, his good deeds and saintly work had spread far and wide.

As centuries came and went, his reputation became almost mythical. Over 400 churches in the Middle Ages were dedicated in his honor. Because of his gift giving and evidence of miracles, people began celebrating and giving gifts to each other on his feast day.
Martin Luther, in the early 1500s, replaced the name Nicholas with Christ Child, or in German, Christkindl, eventually evolving into Kris Kringle. 

More legends sprang up, and in the late 1500s there was another name change–Father Christmas.

Along the way, the tradition developed guidelines. On the eve of December 6, parents instructed their children to hang their stockings by the fireplace or put their shoes out and they would be filled if they were good. They also had to go to bed early if they wanted anything because St. Nick only came at night to deliver his gifts.

The Dutch pronunciation for Saint Nicholas was Sinter Klass. When the Dutch settlers came to the New World and settled in New York, known then as New Amsterdam, they brought their St. Nick traditions. The name changed again from Sinter Klass to Santa Klass to Santa Claus. Which brings us to today.

We all know who this is!

On a side-note:

I still remember my brother and I coming down the stairs, dressed in our school uniforms, anticipating what was in our shoes for St. Nicholas Day. Then on the bus to school, we dreamed about what we would be receiving on the coming Christmas Day because our shoes were filled, signifying that we were being very good. My Mom collaborated with St. Nicholas  through high school, college, and even when we all moved away with our own families. What a treat it was when a St. Nicholas card arrived in the mail with a little money inside.  

Struna's St. Nicholas Day 1976

 I continued the family custom for my own children and so did my brother and sisters with their children. When my Mom passed and I moved further away from everyone to Cape Cod, I wanted to keep the observance of St. Nick alive, along with the goodness of my Mom. So every year I mail a St. Nicholas card to my nieces and nephews, filling it with a dollar bill for each member of their family.  Over the years, I hope they have enjoyed it as much I have. It's a simple reminder to be good and never lose the magic of the season.

I wish the same to you.

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