Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra - December 6
The Feast of St. Nicholas is one of great fun and inspiration because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and was known for his generosity to the needy. His feast is situated at the beginning of the Advent Season as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of the birth of Jesus on December 25th. What better saint than the patron of children and lover of the poor to help us to prepare for Jesus' birthday?
St. Nicholas was born in 280 A.D. in southwestern Turkey. Very little is known about him as he left no writings. However many legends exist and numerous churches, hospitals, monasteries, and chapels were dedicated in honor of him throughout Christendom. It is held that he was born of wealthy parents who died when he was about sixteen, leaving him with their fortune. He was inspired to give his wealth away to those in need. There are many stories about St. Nicholas helping others with money e.g., three young girls without dowries, also miraculous interventions, e.g., saving sailors from drowning, and even physical healings, e.g., restoring three school boys from death.
Nicholas became a priest and later a bishop of Myra. His reputation for love and concern for others spread far and wide. Italian sailors stopped in the port city where St. Nicholas was bishop. They came to know and love him and carried stories of his goodness and holiness back to Italy and Western Europe. St. Nicholas died on December 6 about 343 A.D. and was buried in Myra. Pilgrims visited his burial site and told of a wonderful fragrance that was given off. Many miracles were attributed to prayers directed to the intercession of St Nicholas. Love of St. Nicholas multiplied after his death throughout the Mediterranean. On May 9, 1087, his relics were taken to Bari, Italy by Italian sailors for fear that the Moslem inhabitants would desecrate them. To this day they remain in the cathedral in Bari.
Love of St. Nicholas grew in Italy, Germany, Holland, France, Russia, Ireland and England after the translation of his relics. Parties to celebrate his feast were given. Children put out their shoes in the hopes of receiving small treats, collections were taken up for the poor by young boys dressed as Bishop Nicholas, and all sorts of goodies were baked and eaten! Between the 12th and 15th centuries, St. Nicholas was the most popular religious figure painted after Jesus and the Blessed Mother. He was known and loved as the first gift bringer to children.
In the sixteenth century most of the lovely celebrations and parties came to an end with the Protestant Reformation. Celebrations of saints' feasts were suppressed in the public square. Only Holland managed to retain the celebration of St. Nicholas' feast day, but even there he is honored only as a folk figure not reverenced as a holy bishop. The tradition of honoring St. Nicholas always remained strong in the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Greek Orthodox Church. They were not affected by the influence of the Protestant Reformation. Today we see a return in honoring and celebrating St. Nicholas feast day in Roman Catholic households in the United States.
In future posts I will share ways to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas - recipes for cookies, ideas for parties, prayers, and more. There is an excellent web site: www.stnicholascenter.org that is the premier site for promoting love and devotion to St. Nicholas. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.