Saint Nicholas Day is a highly popular holiday in different countries around the world, especially in Europe. The Saint is so profoundly present that, depending on the local culture, he can be the patron saint of children, sailors, the falsely accused, young women or merchants.
Celebrated on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day honors a man who lived in the 4th century and was well known for his generosity and for leaving some coins in people’s shoes. Saint Nicholas is, in fact, the inspiration for another character pretty popular across the world: Santa Claus.
Throughout Europe, the holiday has unique names, traditions and celebrations. Here we explore some of the most famous traditions:
On December 5, St. Nicholas’ Eve, families hold gatherings and share a feast. A traditional table includes Bishop’s wine, breads, a special main dish and a dose of sweet with St. Nicholas-shaped cookies.
In the Netherlands, this celebration is known as Sinterklaasavond (evening of St. Nicholas). In France, the main dish is can be pork with mustard and apples and in Germany, the meal will most likely include Pfannkuchen or German pancakes.
As part of the tradition, children place a boot or shoe in front of the fireplace or the front door hoping that when they wake up, they will find gifts from Saint Nicholas. This gesture varies across countries and the gifts vary greatly from personalized notes to candy, coins, some chocolate coins, etc.
According to tradition, St. Nicholas has a list with the names of children and what they did throughout the year. This way, he knows who behave well and who didn’t. The well-behaved kids would find some nice gifts, while the kids who didn’t behave well would find coal.
Different cities celebrate the feast either on the eve or on December 6. In the case of Prague, for example, walking around the city on December 5 would mean having the chance to admire wonderful masks of St. Nicholas, beautiful angels and scary devils. According to the Czech tradition, he visits kids accompanied by these creatures and he knows who behaved well or bad.
In the Netherlands, there are parades marking Saint Nicholas’ arrival from Spain. In this country, nearly every town has an annual parade featuring people dressed as the Saint.
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