Feast of St. Nicholas

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
A modern metal icon of St.  Nicholas by the Bulgarian artist Georgi 'Chapa' Chapkanov. Gilbert House, Stanley, Falkland Islands.

Countries around the world enjoy fantastic and awe inspiring December celebrations leading up to Christmas. Feast of St. Nicholas traditions, some of which boggle the mind with their grandeur and gestures of goodwill, are held the world over. The feast is named in honor or Nicholas of Myra, who was born on March 15, 270 and died on December 6, 343.

Sinterklaas at the Het Feest van Sinterklaas in the Netherlands in 2007.

St. Nicholas Day falls on December 6 in many western countries. Germany and Poland celebrate St. Nicholas Day with boys dressing as bishops, begging alms for the poor. In the Ukraine and Poland, children wait for St. Nicholas to come put a present under their pillows. Well, the good children. If you were naughty, St. Nicholas will leave you a twig or a lump of coal!

Children in the Netherlands put out a clog filled with hay, as well as a carrot for St. Nicholas' horse. They also write personal, humorous rhymes. Some places in the United States also have St. Nicholas Day traditions. One of the customs is children leaving their shoes n the foyer on St. Nicholas Eve, in the hope that he will place some coins on the soles of the shoes. Both Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas are derived from St. Nicholas. The name Santa Claus is derived, in part, from the Dutch Sinterklaas, which is St. Nicholas' name in that language.

A depiction of St. Nicholas and his companions visiting children.

In Albania, which borders Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south, St. Nicholas is known as Shen'Kollë. Albanians hold the Feast of Saint Nicholas on the evening of December 5. The feast is known as Shen'Kolli i Dimnit (St. Nicholas of Winter).

In Greece Saint Nicholas isn't celebrated with gift-giving. The tradition of gift-giving is carried over to the St. Basil of Caesarea celebration on New Year's Day. St. Nicholas is the protector of Greek sailors and is the patron saint of the Greek Navy.

In Serbia, St. Nicholas is the most widely celebrated family patron saint. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated as the feast day, Nikoljdan. The day falls during the fasting period prior to Christmas and is thus celebrated according to Eastern Orthodox fasting rules. The fasting period refers to the eating of a restricted diet for reasons of religion. It entails the complete avoidance of animal-sourced food products, including meat, dairy products and eggs.

If you were to visit Bulgaria on St. Nicholas Day, known as Nijulden, you'd find families inviting relatives, sponsors and neighbors over for a hearty meal of fish and two loaves of ceremonial bread.

It is believed that St. Nicholas is buried in Bari, a city in southern Italy, where he is celebrated from May 7 - 9. There, he is known as San Nicola. The celebrations are deeply felt and respected by the Italians. The Fiera di San Niccolo is celebrated on December 6 in the Italian provinces of Trieste, Udine, Belluno, Bari, South Tyrol, Trentino and the eastern part of the Province of Treviso. The celebration includes giving gifts to children on that morning. The fair, Fiera di San Niccolo, is held during the first weeks of December, and is considered more important than Christmas by many of the families. If you happen to find yourself in the Italian city of Sassari, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint of the city, you'll see gifts being given to young women "who need to get married."

In Spain, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the the University of Valladolid. The university is one of the medieval universities in that country.

No matter how you refer to him, Saint Nicholas, San Niccolo or Sinterklass, he's a celebrated figure around the world and the patron saint of many towns, provinces and even the Greek Navy. While he's celebrated on December 6 in western countries, he's celebrated on December 19 in eastern countries. Nicholas of Myra is considered the original bringer of gifts in many countries around the globe.

Hopefully you've been good this year and won't find a twig or lump of coal under your pillow!