On the morning of Dec. 6, children around the world find treats of small gifts, oranges, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil or initial candy, nuts and cookies, left in their shoes. For them it is St. Nicholas Day.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was distressed over the growing popularity of St. Nicholas.
Luther thought the belief in St. Nicholas took away from the true meaning of Christmas, which was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Because of this, he is credited with introducing Christkindl to Germany and parts of Switzerland.
Christkindl is a sprite-like child, usually pictured with blond hair and angelic wings. Martin Luther intended it to be a symbol of the incarnation of Jesus. By the way, the name “Kris Kringle” actually derives from Christkindl.
For ELCA Lutherans, Dec. 6 is a day when we commemorate Nicholas, bishop of Myra.
There are more legends of Nicholas helping the poor than of any other saint. St. Nicholas did not bring mountains of toys to well-fed children, warm and snug in their beds. He fed the poor.
The popular tales of Nicholas are many. The best known story is of the three maidens whose father had fallen on hard times.
Nicholas provided for the women when he learned that they were destined to be sold into prostitution if their father did not raise enough funds for dowries. On three successive nights, Nicholas tossed bags of gold through their window (landing in stockings hung by the fire for drying) and thereby changing their lives.
Nicholas is credited with raising three boys from the dead. They had been murdered and put in a brine barrel and pickled, to be sold for food in a time of famine.
In a French village during the 12th century, local nuns honored their patron on Dec. 6. The nuns delivered candy to all the children who’d been good, leaving it for them in their shoes, while leaving switches in those of the naughtier children. Because they seemed to cover so much territory, some began to say it was St. Nicholas himself who delivered the gifts.
Historically, very little is known of Nicholas. He is believed to have been born between AD 260 and 280 in Patara, a village in a region that is now part of Turkey.
He was the bishop of the city of Myra and it is said that he was persecuted by Diocletian and was put into prison for his resistance to the anti-Christian emperor.
Although his name cannot be found on all of the lists of attending bishops, Nicholas is believed to have been present at the Council of Nicea and was most likely one of the authors of what we call the Nicene Creed.