At the top of the Wikipedia page for Saint Nicholas Day, you find “Not to be confused with the day of Translation of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Myra to Bari which is celebrated on May 9.” This made me laugh a little – I mean, I certainly wasn’t confused about the two, since I’d never heard of Translation of the Relics of Saint Nicholas Day – but it does bring me to a point worth making – there are a LOT of “recognition” days in any given Christian Calendar.
So which ones are days we Feast and which ones are just, you know, days of note? And which is St. Nicholas Day?
Feast days are ranked in accordance with their importance, and that’s set by the specific denomination or community. The Anglican Church has a list, and the Episcopal Church mostly follows that list with a few exceptions. For a list of Episcopal Feast Days, click HERE.
St. Nicholas, I’m afraid, isn’t a “Major” Feast. Nearly every day in the calendar year has a Saint or Important Person to The Church officially linked to it – while we can acknowledge them all with special prayers and collects, to feast on every one would render the point of a Feast Day null. If every day is a Feast, then you never really Feast at all, do you?
But St. Nicholas is important to us. The myths and stories of this Bishop caring for children and giving gifts to those in need is how we came to Santa Claus – St. Nicholas Day is in the season close to Christmas, and if you look at these regional traditions, you can see how we evolved to where we are…leaving out stockings for Santa Claus (Sinterklaus being the Dutch Name for St. Nicholas) to fill with gifts: (from Wikipedia)
- In Europe, especially in “Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor.”
- In Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows provided that the children were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows.
- In the Netherlands, “Dutch children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot for Saint Nicholas’ horse. On Saint Nicholas’ Day, gifts are tagged with personal humorous rhymes written by the sender.”
- In the United States, one custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hope that Saint Nicholas will place some coins on the soles, for them to awake to.
The holiday season of generosity, of goodwill towards our neighbors, or charity to the poor – it is of course all focused on the birth of Christ, of our Messiah – but part of why we honor it in the way we do – from social Santa rituals to church charity drives – is because of St. Nicholas, and where his feast day falls.
So, if we’re Eating Liturgically…what do we do with Saint Nicholas? As in all of this, it’s up to you and how you wish to recognize it. “Personal” Feast Days are legitimate.
For me and my family – we will do chocolate in our shoes the morning of Dec 6th, but the rest of the day will be a Fierce Day. That hint of chocolate in an otherwise no-sweet day will be lovely. My church also does a St. Nicholas Celebration after worship on a Sunday before or ever Dec 6th each year, so on that Sunday my own family will focus our Sunday Feasting a bit on St. Nicholas. This year I’m making these adorable St. Nicholas Strawberries (look at the miter hats!) for the Sunday celebration.