I had hoped to do a podcast on Saint Nicholas Day but was unable to find anyone to do a recoding with so will instead just write a blog post.
Many people know at least a little something of St. Nicholas but I would venture to say very few know very much about him. He is a well known figure through out the Christian world but many do not know his Christian origins instead thinking of him as either St. Nick or Santa Claus.
The historic Saint Nicholas was actually from 260 A.D. which is before any of the real splits among the Christian church. There for he is venerated in many different traditions and if the tradition does not subscribe to the idea of veneration he is at least acknowledged as an important person. He was widely known for his generosity and due to a number of stories considered the patron saint of children. The idea of his leaving presents anonymously comes from two sources, first a tale of a man who had become poor had no dowry for his three daughters so Nicholas gave the man three bags of gold. The way in which Nicholas gave these bags range from him tossing them threw an open window to dropping them down the chimney. In some they coincidentally land in a shoe or stocking that the girls had left to dry. In all but one of the stories I found the poor man had stayed up to catch who ever was doing this and thanked him, to which Nicholas would not take credit. The second story involved his putting coins in peoples shoes who left them out, again while no one was around.
These three bags of gold are said by some to be the source of the three balls that are associated with Saint Nicholas, though I also found that another story was the source of the this that had to do with him saving three small children. Either way this symbol is one that is hung before many pawn shops as he is also the patron saint of pawn brokers. These three balls are also mistaken for oranges which are given out traditionally in his honor.
While the United States does not celebrate his feast day the idea of present giving is but has been associated with Christmas and Santa Claus. In parts of Europe the traditions still hold that the 6th of December is a day to give presents. Some of these traditions hold that a shoe is put out which has a carrot or hay for his horse to be replaced by a small present.
Many believe that in the United States Saint Nicholas was brought over by the Dutch to New Amsterdam (now called New York) but according to one source there is very little actual evidence for this. Instead they say that it was a story by Washington Irving,Knicherbocker’s History of New York. Many of the modern things surrounding Saint Nicholas can be found in this story which was a work of fiction.