Christmas may be coming on December 24, but St. Nick comes a lot earlier in many homes. St. Nick's Day is December 6, honoring a fourth century Greek Orthodox bishop named Nikolaos of Myra, later known as St. Nicholas or St. Nick.
During a time of severe persecution of Christians, this devout believer, a man of means, offered monies and gifts to those in need. Popular legend has it that he secretly gave bags of gold to three sisters, whose father was too poor to pay a dowry for them to marry. St. Nicholas supposedly pitched the bags through an open window, where they were said to land in the maidens' shoes, hanging by the fireplace to dry.
Over the years, the tale has been retold, with some folks embellishing the details to describe St. Nicholas' gold gifts as golden balls, which might have resembled fancy Christmas tree ornaments.
This story is believed to have become the model for our modern-day Santa Claus, who fills children's stockings with goodies and gifts each Christmas. According to holiday lore, St. Nicholas was the original Secret Santa.
But why is St. Nick celebrated on December 6?
Growing up in America, I never heard of St. Nick's Day. In our house, Santa Claus always filled our stockings on December 24, Christmas Eve.
Finally, as an adult, I learned of St. Nick's Day from my in-laws. Apparently, this is a beloved German tradition.
In Northern Europe, for centuries, children have placed their shoes by their doors on this night, eager for St. Nick to sneak in and fill them with treats overnight. In the United States, youngsters hang stockings by fireplaces or in other prominent posts in their homes for the same reason.
St. Nick brings good things to good girls and boys on this occasion. Not-so-good kids might not be so fortunate.
Tonight is the night. St. Nick's Day marks the date of the Feast of St. Nicholas, which honors the historical date he was martyred by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian in 345 A.D.
What do you hope to find from St. Nick in your stocking? Will you hang it up tonight or wait till Christmas Eve?
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