Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Jolly St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas' Day, when this legendary saint is honored in many countries in Europe and in some places in the United States, is celebrated on different dates: December 5th in Norway and December 6th in most other countries.

Who was this Nicholas?

St. Nicholas of Myra was born in 280 A.D. in Asia Minor, in an area that is now part of Turkey. Both of his parents died when he was young, but they left him with great wealth. Nicholas was known for giving anonymous gifts to those in need and his legendgrew from those deeds. The most often told story is of the three girls who were in need of a dowry if they were to be married. In one versions of this story, their father is a poor merchant who cannot afford the dowries, dooming the girls to remain single. In another, more likely version, the three girls were to become slaves if they had no dowry; Nicholas gave them dowries and thus saved them from enslavement, as they were then eligible to be married.

Another story, told on the St. Nicholas Center's website is the tale of the boy Basilios: "One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West."

Tonight is also Krampus Night! Half-goat, half-man, Krampus is said to accompany the Saint on his gift-giving rounds, and punishes bad children. Yikes!

He carries chains and sometimes bells, birch sticks or a whip for punishment; his tongue hangs out; he's covered with fur and has large horns and cloven feet. What a horrific spectre!

This creature is believed to be a throwback to pre-Christian times, according to Smithsonian Magazine: "Krampus' roots have nothing to do with Christmas. Instead, they date back to pre-Germanic paganism in the region. His name originates with the German krampen, which means "claw," and tradition has it that he is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel."

When I was a child, my mother would have small gifts for us on St. Nicholas Day. Sometimes as small as a pencil, other years a pair of socks, candy, or small toy. It all depended on the funds available. These little gifts were wrapped and placed by our plates at dinner. It was one of the small pleasures of the Christmas season that our mother delighted in--and so did we. Fortunately for us, Krampus was not part of her tradition.

So Happy St. Nicholas Day to all, and may the Krampus stay far from your door tonight!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Sue in Suffolk said...

It's the 6th December in the UK too, not the 4th.
Interesting to read all the history

Granny Sue said...

Thanks, Sue--an online source listed the 4th, which I thought odd. I'll revise,

Michelle said...

A great post about St. Nicholas. A friend of mine celebrated St. Nicholas day with her family. I always loved hearing about it.

Lynsey Cameron said...

It's lovely to hear about St Nicholas. As it's my birthday today

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