December 6, 2012

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!
 This is a day greatly anticipated by children the world over.  My family, being Dutch, kept the tradition of setting wooden shoes out the night before, hoping for goodies rather than lumps of coal – a rather public testimonial of our behavior over the past year.  Mom would lay the table with her Delft-like tablecloth, pretty blue and white pictures of little Dutch boys and girls skating, tulips fields, and windmills.  How perfectly Dutch!  We’d have hot cocoa, and a glutinous assortment of cakes, cookies, chocolate, and marzipan.  And this for supper!  It’s easy to see why this is a holiday much loved by children.

The origin of this practice of having a wealth of sweet things comes from the man himself, Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the fourth century. Many of us know the story of Nicholas overhearing a father on the brink of financial devastation lament that his daughters had no dowry, would not be able to marry, and might have to embark on an unsavory profession to make ends meet – a wretched circumstance for a pious but desperate man. Nicholas is said to have tossed a purse of money through the family’s window to save the girls from a fallen life. Tradition has it that the Saint was generous with his own wealth, and worked a miracle to multiply wheat during a time of famine. Besides these acts, Nicholas also defended the faithful of Myra against the heresy of of Aryanism, and was present at the Council of Nicea.

His list of causes is astonishingly long.  Among many other people and places, St. Nicholas is invoked at the patron of children, pilgrims, pirates, pawnbrokers, bakers, candle makers, poor people, lace makers, the falsely accused, firefighters, and pharmacists.  My favourite, however, is something I’d forgotten until I did a little reading about this humble man: he is also the patron saint of unmarried men and women (spinsters was also on the list I found) and is protector of the chastity of unmarried women.

Much as I enjoy our family festivities in honour of ‘Sinterklaas’, I think the time has come to foster a deeper relationship with St. Nicholas. He has a heart for unmarried women, and since my father’s death I have felt the lack of a strong and guiding male presence in my life.  I will certainly benefit from his guardianship, especially in the area of chastity – a virtue under constant attack. I will also ask his help to grow in the area of generosity and charity, this being the perfect time of year to begin such an endeavor.

O Holy Father Nicholas,
the fruit of your good deeds has enlightened and delighted the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot admire your measureless patience and humility?
And who cannot wonder at your graciousness to the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O Bishop Nicholas,
you have divinely taught all things well.
And now wearing your unfading crown,
you intercede for our souls with Christ, our God.

Vesperal antiphon, Byzantine



  1. Here's a greeting to put in your shoe: Happy feast of Saint Nicholas, and thanks for a terrific post!

  2. Thank you Nancy! Heaps better than a lump of coal.



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