Celebrations of the 6th December

Around the world there are numerous celebrations held in honour of St.Nicholas on the 6th December. In many countries children receive their gifts on this day and Christmas Day is dedicated to and celebrated as the birth of Christ.

France

St. Nicolas comes primarily in Alsace, Lorraine and Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French Flanders). St. Nicolas is patron of Lorraine. A little donkey carries baskets filled with children’s gifts, biscuits and sweets. The whole family gets ready for the saint’s arrival on 6 December, with grandparents telling stories of the saint.

Italy

St. Nicholas (San Nicola) is the patron of the city of Bari, where he is buried. Its deeply felt celebration is called the Festa di San Nicola, held on the 7–9 of May. In particular on 8 May the relics of the saint are carried on a boat on the sea in front of the city with many boats following (Festa a mare). On 6th December there is a ritual called the Rito delle nubili. The same tradition is currently observed in Sassari, where during the day of Saint Nicholas, patron of the city, gifts are given to young brides who need help before getting married.

In the provinces of Trieste, Belluno and Trentino St. Nicholas (San Nicolò) is celebrated with gifts given to children on the morning of 6th December and with a fair called Fiera di San Nicolò during the first weeks of December.In some families this celebration is more important than Christmas.

Belgium, the Netherlands and the Lower Rhineland (Germany)

In the Netherlands and Belgium, Saint Nicholas’ Eve (5 December) is the primary occasion for gift-giving. In the days leading up to 5th December young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing Sinterklaas songs. Often they put a carrot or some hay in the shoes, as a gift to St. Nicholas’ horse. The next morning they will find a small present in their shoes, ranging from sweets to marbles or some other small toy. On the evening of 5th December, Sinterklaas brings presents to every child who has behaved well in the past year. This is often done by placing a bag filled with presents outside the house or living room, after which a neighbour or parent bangs the door or window, pretending to be Sinterklaas’ assistant. Sinterklaaswears a bishop’s robes including a red cape and mitre and is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dress, dating back two centuries. These helpers are called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (“Black Petes”) or “Père Fouettard” in the French-speaking part of Belgium.

German speaking countries

In Northern Germany, Sankt Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5th December. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead. In more catholic regions, Nikolaus is dressed very much like a bishop and rides on a horse, welcomed at public places by a large crowd.

In Austria, Bavaria and Tyrol (Austro-Bavarian speaking regions), St. Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, represented as a beast like creature.

In Swiss folklore, the Christmas gift-bringer is known as Samichlaus (like Dutch Sinterklaas a corruption of the name of St. Nicholas). The Swiss version of the scary companion of St. Nicholas corresponding to the Austrian Krampus and the German Knecht Ruprecht is known as Schmutzli. In Catholic parts of Switzerland, Saint Nicholas long retained his traditional habit of bishop’s robes and mitre, while in Protestant parts, he came to be depicted in the Anglo-American “Father Christmas”

In Croatia, Nikolaus (Sveti Nikola) who visits on Saint Nicholas day (Nikolinje) brings gifts to children commending them for their good behavior over the past year and exhorting them to continue in the same manner in the year to come. If they fail to do so they will receive a visit from Krampus who traditionally leaves a rod,

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Mikuláš, in Poland Miko?aj and in Ukraine Svyatyi Mykolay is often also accompanied by an angel(and?l/anio?/anhel) who acts as a counterweight to the ominous devil or Knecht Ruprecht (?ert/czart). Additionally, in Poland children find the candy and small gifts under the pillow or in their shoes the evening of 5th December  or the morning of 6th December .

In Hungary and Romania, children typically leave their boots on the windowsill on the evening of 5th December. By next morning Nikolaus (Szent Miklós traditionally but more commonly known as Mikulás in Hungary or Mo? Nicolae (Sfântul Nicolae) in Romania) leaves candy and gifts if they have been good, or a rod (Hungarian: virgács, Romanian: nuielu??) if they have been bad (most children end up getting small gifts, but also a small rod). In Hungary he is often accompanied by the Krampusz, the frightening helper who is out to take away the bad ones.

In Luxembourg, Kleeschen is accompanied by the Houseker a frightening helper wearing a brown monk’s habit.

In Slovenia, Saint Nikolaus (Miklavž) is accompanied by an angel and a devil (parkelj) corresponding to the Austrian Krampus.

In Serbia, and among the Serb people living across the world, Saint Nicholas is the most widely celebrated family patron saint, celebrated as the feast day of Nikoljdan. Since Nikoljdan always falls in the fasting period preceding Christmas, it is celebrated according to the Eastern Orthodox fasting rules . Fasting refers in this context to the eating of a restricted diet for reasons of religion.

In the Republic of Bulgaria, Saint Nicholas is one of the most celebrated saints. Many churches and monasteries are named after him. Saint Nicholas’ day is celebrated as a holiday on the 6th of December.

United States and Canada

While feasts of Saint Nicholas are not observed nationally, cities with strong German influences like Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis celebrate St. Nick’s Day on a scale similar to the German custom. As in other countries, many people in the United states celebrate a separate St Nicholas Day by putting their shoes outside their bedroom doors on the evening of 5th December. St Nicholas then comes during the night. On the morning of 6th December, those people will find their shoes filled with gifts and sugary treats. Widespread adoption of the tradition has spread among the German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch communities throughout the United States.

One can see that the name of Santa Claus has been derived from St.Nicholas, Santa – Saint and Claus – a shortened version of Nicholas or Nicolaus, so the next time your young child asks you if there really is a Santa Claus you can honestly look them in the eye and say “YES there really is!”

<Back to page 1. Saint Nicholas History.

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