Winter Holidays Around the World: St. Nicholas's Day


Candy Cane

The candy cane is a symbol of St. Nichoas's staff.


Speculaas are spicy, ginger cookies, often shaped in a mold. 

Santa's Helpers

St. Nicholas's helpers have different names depending on the region.  In some regions, he is accompanied by a hooded and soot smudged helper called Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht).  In Switzerland, the helper's name is Schmutzli, and Buttnmandle in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. In Austria, his companion is Krampus. He is described as wearing a sheep or goat skin suit, cowbells hung around his waist, and carrying a sack large enough to take away any naughty children.


When and where is it celebrated?

December 6

In some countries, the celebration begins on the eve of St. Nicholas's Day on December 5.

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Who was Saint Nicholas?

Nicholas was born in Turkey to wealthy parents.  His parents died from an epidemic when he was still young.  He was raised as a Christian. and later dedicated his life to service, using his inheritance to help the poor and infirm.   He later became a bishop who was noted for his generosity, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and their ships. He died December 6, AD 343. Saint Nicholas was made a patron saint. A liquid substance formed in his grave said to have healing powers.  The anniversary of his death became known as St. Nicholas Day.

How is St. Nicholas's Day Celebrated?

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day by telling the story of the saint whose life modeled compassion and charity.  St. Nicholas cared for the needy, the focus is on giving rather than receiving.

     In many European countries, Saintshoes with gifts Nicholas Day is also called Feast of Sinterklaas, the celebrating begins on the eve of the holiday on December 5th. Children put out carrots and hay for St. Nicholas's horses and set out their shoes by the door for St. Nicholas to leave small gifts of coins or candy.







     In Belgium and the Netherlands, the day is celebrated when someone dressed as St. Nichols arrives by ship on December 6th and rides a white horse or donkey through the town handing out gifts. He is accompanied by Black Peter (Zwarte Piet) who helps him distribute sweets and presents to good children; and lumps of coal, potatoes, and switches to bad children. 







     In Germany, on December 6th, St. Nicholas, who is a gray-haired figure in bishop's garments and carrying a staff, goes door-to-door and questions the children to see if they were well behaved.  The children are expected to sing, recite a verse, or demonstrate a special skill.  Each child receives a small gift for their performance.  

Czech Republic