On my mother’s side of the family, there is a custom. A long-serving and deep-rooted family tradition. My Mother’s Father, and most likely many before him too, celebrated the saint day of Saint Nicholas, referred to in our native tongue as Sveti Nikola.
It’s a generational thing, and men pass it down to their sons and so on, so that the tradition of Sveti Nikola lives on. My Mum’s brothers have celebrated it, and passed it on to their sons, my cousins… and that’s exactly what we were doing tonight, on December the 19th. Celebrating the Saint who is the inspiration behind Santa Claus.
There are many traditions upheld on this Saint day. They involve food and drink, but perhaps most importantly is the tradition of family unity, of love and peace and togetherness. I haven’t seen my cousins for about 4 months, and it was 4 months too long let me tell you. There have been so many life-changes of late, that I just wanted to see them, talk to them, and be in their company, if only for a little while. And what better time to do it than at a family union celebrating a tradition from our Forefathers.
When I looked into the tradition of Saint Nicholas this time last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was the basis of our modern day Santa Claus, with his image, meaning and celebration date
slightly modified over the years. Nicholas himself was born in the 3rd century and raised as a devout Christian by parents who unfortunately died while he was still quite young. He spent his life giving all he had to the poor and unfortunate and helping those in need, leading to stories and legends about him as a protector and helper of humankind.
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters, who had no dowry, nothing of value to offer prospective husbands for his daughters. And this was a horrible fate, for not marrying would mean they were destined to be sold as slaves. However on three separate occasions, bags of gold were mysteriously and conveniently thrown into an open window, providing the much-needed dowry, apparently landing in a stocking drying by the fire. This is the basis for the tradition of children hanging out stockings for Saint Nicholas to put gifts in.
I find it beautiful, and highly convenient, that the patron Saint in my family is based on the man who today’s Santa Claus is inspired by. And it’s something to remember at this time of year. Whereas today there can often be an unnecessary focus on expensive gifts, people rushing about and not taking the much-needed time out, not to mention those whiners who just CAN’T WAIT ’til this year is over with, I much prefer the relaxed approach that this Saint day brings: unyielding family tradition, sharing love and happiness, and giving to help others, rather than giving so you can boast about how much you have.
I guess you can do those things on Christmas Day, which we do… but when you celebrate a Saint and have his picture in mind, and then remember all those before you… it makes it all the more personal.
I love this time of year. 🙂
If you are interested in the rest of the world’s early portrayal of Saint Nicholas, and more info on how Saint Nicholas came to be the Santa Claus that we know and love, I found a great resource at this website with a tonne of really interesting facts:
Actually… I do love Santa, but after reading from the above link, I think I love Saint Nicholas more.