Sankt Nikolaus, the history and how he became a beloved figure


Saint Nicholas’ work has contributed to the formation of numerous legends that over the centuries have led to him being regarded as one of the most important saints. However, the legends are not only based on the life of the bishop of Myra, but also on those of an Abbot of the same name from the monastery of Sion near Myra, who later became bishop in Pinara and died in 564

Below you see Sankt Nikolaus visiting children in Bavaria in morning of Dec. 6.

Children look forward to a visit by St. Nikolaus and Knecht Rupprecht (for naughty children) on December 6

Sankt Nikolaus per Wikimedia

My parents would put out small presents like chocolate, fruit and nuts into our shined boots at night of December 5th and placed them outside. Sometimes Sankt Nikolaus, a friend or neighbor in a Bishop costume, would bring goodies in a bag the next day. He was accompanied with his assistant Knecht Rupprecht, or the scary and hairy looking Krampus

Read here how I experienced Christmas in my childhood growing up in Bavaria

There are few documented facts about the life of the historical Nicholas. Myra in Lycia, now Demre, where Nikolaus was born, is a small town about 100 km southwest of Antalya in modern-day Turkey. In the 4th century the place was a bishop’s seat and the inhabitants spoke Greek. Reports about Nikolaus’ life come from e.g. B. by Andrew of Crete (about 700) and by a monk John from the Studite monastery in Constantinople, which was founded in the 5th century.

Sankt Nikolaus Santa Claus in Bavaria by Wikimedia
Sankt Nikolaus in Bavaria (photo by Wikimedia)

Nicholas was born between 270 and 286 in Patara, a city in Lycia. According to tradition, he was ordained a priest at the age of 19 by his uncle Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, and then Abbot of the monastery of Sion near Myra. During the persecution of Christians in 310 he was captured and tortured. He distributed his inherited wealth among the needy. This is also reported by attested bishops of the 4th century, Ambrose of Milan and Basil of Caesarea, and is considered historical fact. There are various legends about Nicholas.

The custom, the filling of the shoes in the night from the 5th to the 6th December or similar is based on the legend of the three virgins, who were gifted at night by St. Nicholas. This is mainly done in the Bavarian catholic regions, and the Christmas Child usually comes Christmas Eve with presents.

Originally, St. Nicholas Day was also the day of Christmas gifts. In Northern Lutheran Germany and some countries, he still brings the gifts on the 24/25th Dec. It was a result of the rejection of the worship of saints by the Reformation that the gift was postponed to Christmas in many countries, and as a result Nicholas was replaced by the Christ Child in some places as a giver.

Photo by Wikimedia.Oberbobritzsch Kirche Nikolausaltar

In the 19th Century, America developed this customs around Santa Claus also called Kris Kringle. Today Santa Claus is the world’s dominant, mercantile figure.In the 19th Century, America developed this customs around Santa Claus. Today Santa Claus is the world’s dominant, mercantile figure.

A German Nikolaus Poem below:

Von drauß vom Walde komm’ ich her;
Ich muß euch sagen, es weihnachtet sehr!
Allüberall auf den Tannenspitzen
Sah ich goldene Lichtlein sitzen;
Und droben aus dem Himmelstor
Sah mit großen Augen das Christkind hervor,
Und wie ich so strolcht’ durch den finstern Tann,
Da rief’s mich mit heller Stimme an:
“Knecht Ruprecht”, rief es, “alter Gesell,
Hebe die Beine und spute dich schnell!
Die Kerzen fangen zu brennen an,
Das Himmelstor ist aufgetan,
Alt’ und Junge sollen nun
Von der Jagd des Lebens ruhn;
Und morgen flieg’ ich hinab zur Erden,
Denn es soll wieder Weihnachten werden!”
Ich sprach: “O lieber Herre Christ,
Meine Reise fast zu Ende ist;
Ich soll nur noch in diese Stadt,
Wo’s eitel gute Kinder hat.” –
“Hast denn das Säcklein auch bei dir?”
Ich sprach: “Das Säcklein, das ist hier;
Denn Äpfel, Nuß und Mandelkern
Essen fromme Kinder gern.” –
“Hast denn die Rute auch bei dir?”
Ich sprach: “Die Rute, die ist hier;
Doch für die Kinder nur, die schlechten,
Die trifft sie auf den Teil, den rechten.”
Christkindlein sprach: “So ist es recht;
So geh mit Gott, mein treuer Knecht!”
Von drauß vom Walde komm’ ich her;
Ich muß euch sagen, es weihnachtet sehr!
Nun sprecht, wie ich’s hierinnen find’!
Sind’s gute Kind, sind’s böse Kind?

How did you experience Saint Nicholas as a child? I am interested of your comments on the bottom