St. Nicholas Day is being celebrated today in may countries around the world. The holiday has been popular for centuries in Christian countries, specifically Northern Europe.
The holiday is also a reminder that St. Nicolas is actually known at Jolly Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas. For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors, among others.
Traditional celebrations included gifts left in children's shoes, from which American Christmas stockings developed.
Good children receive treats -- candies, cookies, apples and nuts -- while naughty children receive lumps of coal. In Germany, children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and hope to find candy, coins and maybe a small gift in them on Dec. 6. In the Netherlands, children put their shoes in front of their chimneys in hopes of finding chocolate or a small toy in their shoe when they wake. The Dutch say that Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklass and his helper Zwarte Piet or Black Pete would travel by horse to homes. Children would leave out a pair of polished shoes filled with hay and carrots. If the children were good it was replaced with candy and gifts. If the children were not good, Black Pete would leave a piece of coal.
Dec. 6 is the generally recognized date of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. He lived in the fourth century and died in 342 A.D. He was the son of a wealthy family who became a monk in his teens and later a priest and Bishop.
Following the death of his parent's he used his inheritance to help those in need. His acts of kindness and mercy were legendary and he became known throughout Christendom as a saintly man.