Christian: Think you know Santa? Try St. Nicholas!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 6: If your home is among the millions of Santa Claus households—start today with the feast of St. Nicholas—the “real” Santa Claus!

Today, we’re recommending the world’s best website for exploring the stories, art, crafts, traditions and real-life religious expressions related to St. Nicholas: The online St. Nicholas Center, a nonprofit, ecumenical effort to link together all good things related to St. Nick.

All around the world, Christians and non-Christians alike will be remembering the saint with various ethnic rituals. Some children will be setting out their shoes in hopes of receiving candy and some households in the Netherlands will be “rained on” with candy from upstairs—a sure sign that “Sinterklaas” has come! Find out about distinctive celebrations around the world at the St. Nicholas site.


Surprisingly, the real St. Nick had a life quite similar to the rituals used to remember him. His story still appeals to the masses. (Here’s an in-depth version of that history.)

St. Nicholas was originally Nikolaos of Myra, born in modern-day Turkey in the 3rd century. While many saints were martyrs and remembered as such, St. Nicholas was a bishop who lived out an example of heroic virtue and died peacefully. He was known for providing dowries for girls who had none; saving young children in dangerous situations; giving gifts in secret; and professing Christ in times of persecution. (Wikipedia has details, too.) Centuries before the Roman Catholic Church began formalizing canonization procedures, St. Nick was hailed as a saint by people across the breadth of the Christian Church. (Check out a St. Nicholas timeline at St. Nicholas Center. You also can read about debates over St. Nicholas’ sainthood.) So many miracles have been attributed to his intercession through the centuries, in fact, that he has become known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker! In 1809, the New-York Historical Society retroactively named Santa Claus the patron saint of today’s New York City.


According to Clement Moore, Christmas Eve is the time to hang stockings by the chimney with care—but according to European tradition, St. Nicholas Day is the time to leave out stockings and shoes in hopes of receiving candy and small gifts. European children often leave out a carrot and hay for St. Nicholas’ horse, too, just as American children leave out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. There are many Nicholas-related treats around the world, too! Here’s an index to online recipes, including “Dutch Bishop’s Wine” and cookies from Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Ukraine—oh, and bread recipies, too. Yum!

If your family is in search of a Christian way to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, try this tradition: Have an older male in the household dress up as St. Nicholas, and have him sit down with children, one by one, and invite them to examine their consciences. Intriguing? Children can also find games, coloring pages and more at St. Nicholas Center. Children will not only be rewarded for good behavior with treats and gifts from St. Nicholas, but they will begin preparing for Jesus’ birth in an age-appropriate way.

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