St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) Our Family Traditions


Thanks to a European influence on my side of the family, I grew up celebrating the tradition of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th.

Many people just know St. Nicholas by the name of Santa Claus. While the modern figure of Santa derives from St. Nick, you’d hardly find this patron saint of children making toys at the North Pole.

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The Story of St. Nicholas

The real man behind the fictitious modern day Santa Claus and Father Christmas was St. Nicholas of Myra. Born in 280 A.D. in Asia Minor, he lost his parents at an early age, though they left him great wealth when they died. The real St. Nicholas was known for giving anonymous gifts to help those in need and was eventually made a bishop of Myra.

The good bishop died on December 6th; thus this day is now Saint Nicholas Day.

For a fascinating explanation of how a man with a beard, reindeer, and the North Pole came to be associated with St. Nick, see this podcast episode about Santa Claus and the roots of the story in Finnish culture.

Why the Gift Giving?

The history of leaving shoes or stockings out on St. Nick’s Day likely stems from the story of him leaving small bags of gold for a man and his three daughters. During those times women had to bring a dowry to a marriage in order to find a good husband.

St. Nick heard of a man who had three daughters but could not afford the dowry. Without it, the daughters would most likely enter a life of prostitution instead of being able to marry. According to legend, St. Nick threw three bags of gold through their window at night (some say down the chimney) where they found them the next morning. This saved them from a life at a brothel and cemented his place as the patron of gift-giving.

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