In many parts of the world, December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas visits children and leaves them little presents.
|photo: IUPUI School of Liberal Arts|
It's easy to see the similarities between the St. Nicholas of European countries and Santa Claus of the U.S., but what's really interesting are the differences.
Obviously, there's the outfit. I'd imagine it's pretty hard to get down chimneys in a robe and miter, and there's probably no room for the bishop's staff in the sleigh.
Then there's the date: December 6 was the date of Nicholas' death in AD 343, so the feast day set aside to honor him uses that date.
And even though the celebration of that day involves gifts, it's not a Christmas thing. Our Austrian neighbors waited until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree. (And the fresher the tree the better, when you're lighting it with real candles.)
I'd guess that the date's proximity to Christmas caused an eventual melding of the two holidays.
But I think Americans are poorer for the loss of St. Nicholas' Day.
*In Austria, Nicholas is accompanied by a creepy devil-like figure named Krampus who doles out punishments to the naughty. And now you know where the coal and switches come from.