December 4, 2022
By Amy Larson
Wyo4New feature writer
Many years ago, I decided in the early morning hours of December 6 to drive around on snowy streets and leave little gifts for several of my friends in little cowboy boots. This tradition was my western/Wyoming/fun take on the tradition of the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, which is more prevalent in Europe. This is where children would leave their shoes out on December 5, and the good children awake in the morning of December 6 to find sweet treats in them, such as oranges, candy canes, and gold coins.
I didn’t grow up celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, although I think at CCD, we left our shoes outside the door. But, it was something that I came across later in life while studying the Saint, and his story is something that resonates with me every year.
First of all, St. Nicholas is indeed a real person. He was the Bishop of Myra (present-day Turkey) during the fourth century. Unfortunately, there is not a lot known of his life as he left no writings, but he was known for his great compassion, especially to the poor and outcasts.
St. Nick’s giving and the beginning of Christmas stockings
The legends suggest that his parents died when he was young, leaving him with great fortune. St. Nicholas used that money to help those in the most need. The most famous of legends is of a poor father with three daughters and no money to provide a dowery. St. Nicholas is said to have tossed bags of gold coins in through an open window in the darkness of night, saving the girls from what would have been harsh lives. The night St. Nicholas delivered the third bag, the father caught a glimpse of him and went to thank him. St. Nicholas asked the man not to tell anyone, and the man obliged, although clearly not forever as we know of the story.
Another story states that when St Nicholas threw the coins through the daughter’s window (or maybe down the chimney), they landed in the girls’ stockings hanging on the mantle of the fireplace to dry. The birth of the Christmas stocking tradition?
While there is no direct connection between St. Nicholas and the man we know as Santa Clause, many think that when the Dutch immigrated to North America, the children told stories of “Sinter Klaas.” The mispronunciation of his name became Santa Claus.
The fun thing about studying St. Nicholas’ story is that it has become one of my holiday traditions. While there are the occasional years I forget to do it, most years I still drop off a little stocking at friends’ houses on the Feast of St. Nicholas, although it’s not in the secret of darkness anymore. To me, it is just a simple way to express my gratitude for their friendship and how they have made me a better person by believing in me. Now that several of them have children, I drop a gift off for the kids, usually a book and a sweet treat, just so they know that I see them too, believe in them, and want nothing but the best for them. That ultimately was the gift behind the sharing of the legend of St. Nicholas. He worked to make life better in his community and ensure everyone had someone who believed in them.
While my St. Nicholas adventure is fun and a tradition I hope to continue, there is a part of it every year that reminds me of the good that still exists in the world. I spend time looking for the “real St. Nicholas” as I wander through the year. The people that make the world a better place simply by being them. They are the people that fight for causes they believe in, advocate for those without a voice, and sit with the poor and outcasts. They are those that have a fortune, not necessarily in the bank, but in their talents and abilities, passion and purpose, and share those, not for the world to see, but mostly under cover of darkness. They do it because they know it changes lives, and everyone deserves someone who believes in them.
As we are surrounded by the message of “Believe” everywhere we look at this time of year, I encourage you to take a moment and reach out to those who believe in you. I challenge you to thank them or honor them in your own way.
Believe in St. Nicholas! He still exists everywhere, and I know this for a fact, as many of you reading this are included in his legacy. Thank you!