|The spirit of St. Nicholas|
|Friday, December 07, 2012 3:53 PM|
Amy Youngpeter, marketing director at St. John’s Schools, explained the story behind the original St. Nicholas and described the activities the students participate in
“St. Nicholas paid three women’s dowries by throwing gold coins through the window,” Youngpeter detailed the tradition. “We use the gold wrapped chocolate coins to symbolize the dowry payment he made and candy canes to represent the Bishop’s crozier [golden staff].
In many cultures, St. Nicholas is the main gift- giver and his feast day, St. Nicholas Day, is observed on Dec. 6, which falls early in the Advent season. In other cultures, he may arrive in the middle of November and then moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good. In other places, he visits during the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children’s wish lists. Small treats are left in shoes or stockings so the children will know he has come.
Historically in Roman Catholic areas of southern Germany, such as Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) is seen as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop’s miter and staff. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and children polish their shoes or boots in preparation for the saint’s visit. On the evening before St. Nicholas Day, children put letters to the good saint along with carrots or other food for his white horse or donkey on a plate or in their shoes. These are left outside, under the bed, beside a radiator, or on a windowsill in hopes of finding goodies from St. Nicholas the next morning. During the night, Sankt Nikolaus goes from house to house carrying a book in which all the children’s deeds are written. If they have been good, he fills their plate, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and candies. If not, they may find potatoes, coal, or twigs.
Children practice poems and songs for Sankt Nikolaus and make little presents for him. Friends and neighbors come to share in the fun. Candles on the Advent wreath and the big Christmas pyramid with a nativity scene in the center are lit. Stories are read or songs sung as everyone waits for a knock on the door. When it comes, they all know it is Sankt Nikolaus, who comes in with his big book, golden crozier, and a big heavy sack. One of the children gets to hold the golden staff. Each child (and sometimes adults, too) stand in front of the saint. Nikolaus asks each child, “Have you behaved yourself?” “Do you do your homework?” “Do you keep your room tidy?” “Do you help your parents?” Then he opens his big sack and gives presents, candies and treats for all to share. And they give him the little surprises. Nikolaus leaves quickly as he has many places to visit. He travels with a white horse or a donkey and sometimes, his most common German companion, is with him.
Over time, many traditional German customs have melded into some common practices.
Within the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the phrase “And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”, reflects the story of St. Nicholas rescuing the poor maidens from being sold into slavery, by tossing the gold dowry money through the window into the stockings hung to dry by the fire.
Placing an orange, tangerine or apple in the toe of filled Christmas stocking symbolizes the gold Nicholas threw to provide the dowry money to rescue the maidens.
The St. Nicholas Day Blessing of Candy Canes, or candy croziers, is another St. Nicholas’ symbol. All bishops carry staffs, hooked at the top like a shepherd’s crook, showing they are the shepherds who care for, or tend, their people.
St. Nicholas did his gift giving secretly, under the cover of darkness, filling stockings while children are sleeping. He did not want to be seen or recognized as he wanted those he helped to give thanks to God.
St. Nicholas gave gifts to those in greatest need — the young and the most vulnerable. The gifts and other seasonal contributions to charity, reflect St. Nicholas’ unselfish concern for others.