Beliefs / Celebrations / Greece

St. Nicholas Day: A Chance to Pay It Forward

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a Christmas Animal! I just love the season, no matter where I am – the special foods, camaraderie, generosity, decorations … did I mention the food?

Today is St. Nicholas Day here in Greece – and several other European countries. I bet you thought he was a myth, but not true! Saint Nicholas is an important saint in the Christian church, and is known as the patron saint of sailors, travelers (Now I know why I like him!), bakers, merchants, thieves (hmmm), and most importantly, children.

St. Nicholas was known to be generous to the poor – the practice of giving gifts is attributed to him. And hanging up stockings also originated with St. Nicholas.

As the legend goes, St. Nicholas would throw small bags of gold coins into the open windows of poor homes. After one bag of gold fell into the stocking of a child, news got around. Children soon began hanging their stocking by their chimneys “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.

20111206-024912.jpgI am told that in Greece he is most often seen as the patron saint of sailors. In Greek tradition it is believed that St. Nicholas’s beard always drips with seawater and his face with perspiration as he fights to save ships at sea from disaster. If you look on any Greek ship you are likely to find an icon of St. Nicholas who is protecting the ship from disaster.

It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the spirit of St. Nicholas’ life evolved into the creation of Santa Claus. And this happened in America. In 1822 Clement C. Moore (Professor of Greek Literature at Columbia) composed his famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nick” (later published as “The Night Before Christmas”). This poem is considered to be the basis for the modern-day image of Santa Claus- a jolly fat man in a red suit, who is kind and generous to children.

So today, December 6th, officially kicks off the Christmas season here in Athens. All I know is that there are some gorgeous cookies in our local bakery window … I think I’ll buy some and Pay It Forward.

Have a Happy St. Nicholas Day … and maybe you can surprise someone with generosity.



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