St. Nicholas Traditions for a New Millenium

1 comment Posted on December 22, 2015

Sandra Orchardby Sandra Orchard

It’s been seventeen centuries since St. Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra, showed his devotion to God through his extraordinary generosity to those in need, thereby inspiring traditions that continue to this day.

With many believers lamenting the commercialization of the Christmas season, what better time to reflect on the real Nicholas, a model of true giving and faithfulness. Unlike most early “saints,” Nicholas was a Confessor, not a martyr. He confessed Christ publicly in times of persecution and remained faithful despite imprisonment and torture, and bore witness to God’s work through his love for the poor.

Sailors carried his stories to ports throughout the known world. However, during the 16th century Protestant Reformation, reformers, who took a dim view of saints, tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs. While Puritans tried to eliminate Christmas entirely in 1643, requiring English shops to be open and churches closed.

St. NickThus, the first (primarily Puritan) Colonists did not bring Nicholas traditions to America. Although on the European continent, the traditions survived, as people continued to place nuts, apples and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.

Then in 1809, five years after antiquarian John Pintard promoted St. Nicholas as a patron saint of New York City, Washington Irving published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character, depicted as an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe.

As society’s perception of family life evolved, the Christmas season, that had largely devolved into a time of drunken revelry, became more child-centered, aided by an 1821 lithographed book in which “Sante Claus” rewarded well-behaved children with gifts. Two years later, the defining American holiday classic “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (aka “The Night Before Christmas”) solidified the new traditions.

DesperateMeasuresIronically, although “St. Nick” was no longer seen as a religious figure, he helped return Christmas observance to churches. At that time, Sunday schools in cities were exposing hundreds of thousands of children to Christianity, and by the 1850s, teachers discovered that a Christmas tree, Santa and gifts, greatly improved attendance.

But as the Apostle Paul might say, “What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is [heard].” So make the most of your gift-giving opportunities this Christmas to share the Greatest Gift of All.

Sandra Orchard writes romantic suspense and mysteries to inspire the soul—fast-paced, keep-you-guessing stories with a generous dash of sweet romance. Her award-winning books include Deadly Devotion, Blind Trust, Desperate Measures and the soon-to-be-released A Fool and His Monet (Revell), as well as numerous Love Inspired Suspense titles. Visit Sandra or


  • 12/23/2015
    Carolyn Wilker said:

    Thank you, Sandra for your enlightening story about Santa Claus and St, Nicholas. Yesterday I had my granddaughters here for the day. They helped me to put up our stone creche and I told them a short version of the nativity story, and a little about the first person who started giving gifts—St Nicholas.


Submit Comment