In some cultures and faiths, St. Nicholas visits well before Christmas.
Many recognize St. Nicholas' feast day on Dec. 6, and the eve on Dec. 5.
Who was St. Nick?
St. Nicholas was born in 280 AD in Asia Minor. His parents died when he was young, leaving him great wealth. The saint was known for doing good deeds and sharing his wealth, such as anonymously delivering sacks of gold to those in need in the dark of night. He is recognized as a saint in many Catholic and Christian churches.
The American Santa Claus, or Old Saint Nick, was derived from the actual St. Nicholas.
How to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas
The day is celebrated widely in some countries.
In Germany, children put out boots, or Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside on the eve of the Feast Day, in hopes that the saint will leave them treats or goodies.
In the Alsace region of France, for example, a little donkey carries baskets of goodies for children through towns and villages. Special treats are baked and shared, including gingerbread biscuits and a brioche shaped like the saint.
In Italy, a San Nicola festival commemorates the arrival of St. Nicholas' remains in the town of Bari in 1087. It is a day of festivals and gift giving. Also, because he is the patron saint of women wishing to be married, some young women leave notes and coins for the saint in the basillica there.
Many American families celebrate a version of this day, too. Some follow their nationality's traditions. Others simply set out a shoe or a sock for the saint to fill on the eve, so the next morning their children awake to find small gifts and treats. (This writer's family sometimes got oranges, symbolizing the bags of gold coins St. Nicholas would give away.)
Does your family celebrate the feast? What traditions do you honor? Share yours in comments!