Happy feast of St. Nicholas. In the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, the celebration of the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th is the first little celebration of the Christmas season.
St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey, and very little is actually known about his life historically. He became revered as the patron of children and especially of poor children, because it was said that he was a bishop with a very kind and generous heart. Among his good deeds, he secretly gave money (bags of gold) as dowries for three poor girls so that they would be able to be married. Their poor father was planning to sell his daughters into slavery (that’s not the part of the story that we tell to children!). St. Nicholas was caught by the father giving the third bag of coins. In some places they give little chocolates, wrapped in foil to look like coins.
In parts of Europe and later in the United States, the figure of St. Nicholas was smushed together with wintry gift giver whom the English call “Father Christmas”. My personal theory is that in the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism the poor bishop of Myra was substituted to get rid of the Catholic connections. You can tell which character you are looking at because Father Christmas holds a fur tree and loads of toys, and he is obviously not a bishop and he has no mitre or cope.
Some of the excitement of the story of St. Nicholas endures in the modern “legend” of Santa Clause who gives gifts in secret in the middle of the night, although he slides down the chimney to do this. Does it bother anyone else that an overweight red elf […] has replaced the poor baby Jesus as the central figure of Christmas? This is one more reason why I don’t watch television.