Happy Saint Nicholas Day

by Tilly Thyme on December 6, 2011

December 6th is celebrated by many around the world as St. Nicholas Day.  While Thanksgiving here in the United States marks the official start of the holiday season, in Italy the Feast of San Nicola holds that honor, and the holiday season continues for one month until January 6th (the Epiphany and the arrival of La Befana).

If you don’t know the history of San Nicola/St. Nicholas, the holy man who inspired the beloved St. Nick/Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Babbo Natale figure, the St. Nicholas Center website provides a wealth of information on his life and ways to introduce his story to your children.

While many adhere to the custom of leaving shoes outside of children’s bedroom doors to be filled with sweets by St. Nicholas, here at our home, we do as children have done in Molfetta, Italy for ages.  On December 5th, the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, my children pen letters to San Nicola telling him how good they have been and promising to continue showing kindness to others in the new year as San Nicola did during his life.

They often draw pictures of San Nicola standing next to them, all decked out for the Christmas season.

That evening before retiring to their slumber, my children leave their letters on separate ceramic plates emblazoned with San Nicola’s image (a gift from their Nonno and Nonna) at the base of our hearth.  They send the letters off with a flurry of kisses and wishes and head to bed.

During the night, San Nicola piles the plates with sweets, candy canes, golden chocolate coins, nuts, and fruits (apples or often oranges to remind children to be like sun and light the world).  These gifts are meant to be shared, and not hoarded, and thus we leave the plates out for a few days for everyone to enjoy.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the tradition is the letter St. Nicholas deposits on the plates for each child.  These missives also remain on display as part of our holiday decorations as a reminder to all of us that the season truly marks the importance of sharing our abundance with those less fortunate.

If you would like to bring this tradition into your home, you can find some suggestions here: Celebrate at Home.

Buon San Nicola

Happy Saint Nicholas Day


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