If you’ve never heard about the Feast of St. Nicholas, now is a great time to add this simple tradition to your holiday repertoire.
December 6 celebrates the feast day of this bringer of gifts. The tradition of putting a shoe outside one’s bedroom door is done by young and old alike with much anticipation of St. Nick’s visit. The story of St. Nicholas is a timely reminder that the holiday season is a season of generosity and charity.
A time-honored tradition in many parts of Europe, St. Nicholas and his shoe filling habits are the basis for our modern Santa Claus. Nicholas of Myra was a religious bishop who hailed from Greece (instead of the North Pole). His parents died when he was a young boy and left him a generous inheritance. As a wealthy man, he made the choice to share his financial gains with those who were less fortunate. He developed a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. He was known for working miracles when all hope was lost. For his ready generosity he was declared a saint by the Catholic church in 900 AD. He was often portrayed as a gift giver in winter solstice activities. He is usually portrayed holding a book that holds the names of the righteous, the early “good” list.
As children head to bed on the eve of this feast day, they place a shoe beside their bedroom doors. According to custom, they add a bit of grain, or hay, or a carrot in the shoe for the good saint’s horse to eat. In return, St. Nick fills the shoes with gifts during the night. Gold coins are a particular favorite treat to be found in the morning. Tiny books, small dolls, figurines, or tiny trinkets are also tucked into the shoes.
A lesson for my girls was to include real coins deep inside their shoes, so they would carry the coins with them and never pass the salvation Army bell ringers without sharing their wealth.
This feast day has become a tradition in our family, and one that reminds us that goodness and generosity should be foremost in our living.