December 6 is the feast day of Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas was a Christian living in the Roman province of Lycia (part of modern day Turkey) during the fourth century. We know very little about his life, except that he was a man of great faith and he became the Bishop of Myra in Lycia. Nicholas was known as a generous man and numerous legends have grown up about his charity and compassion. One of the stories tells how he saved a family of three daughters from ruin by secretly placing gifts of money in the girls’ shoes or, in other versions, throwing the money down the chimney.
Over the years, traditions of gift giving grew up around Nicholas, until he became known as ‘Sinter Klaas’ in Dutch with children receiving gifts on his feast day. Sinter Klass translated in Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) which is where our modern Santa gets his name.
Today Saint Nicholas’ Day is celebrated in many countries in Europe including in France where gingerbread biscuits are baked. In other countries like Hungary, Romania, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands children may put out shoes for small gifts; and in northern Germany children put a boot outside the front door to have it filled with little gifts and goodies. Even parts of USA with a strong German influence celebrate ‘St Nick’s Day’ with shoes or an empty stocking.
A Big Difference
With Santa the emphasis seems to me to be on ‘getting’. Whereas with Nicholas the emphasis was on giving. One of the good things about homeschooling is that we can focus on the original story of St Nick and help our children discover that wonderful joy of giving.
Little gifts, especially ones made by the children, count for so much. Something as small as a painting or drawing, mounted and framed, can be a wonderful treasure to give. And it helps us keep Christmas in perspective, doesn’t it?
Happy St Nick’s Day.