St. Nicholas Day

Origin and tradition

Autor:in Chiara Tagger

In the run-up to Christmas, many folk traditions accompany us. Among other things, we commemorate St. Nicholas on 6 December. But where does this tradition come from?

The actual Nicholas, born around 280 AD, was ordained bishop at the age of 19. According to tradition, he lived in Myra and distributed his inherited wealth among the needy. However, he is mainly known for the many legends that have been formed about his person over time, making him one of the most important saints of the Eastern Church and the Latin Church. One of them is the "stilling of the sea storm". In this legend it is told that shipmen in distress at sea called for help. A saint appeared to them, who tamed the current, set their sails correctly and navigated them towards the shore. Thereupon the man disappeared again. Only when the sailors prayed in thanksgiving in the church of Myra did they realize the real identity of their savior. Since then, St. Nicholas has been the patron saint of sailors, for example.

In order to celebrate these legends and his many good deeds, different customs arose from region to region on the commemoration day of St. Nicholas, which are still celebrated every year:

  • In the Netherlands, "Sinterklaas" brings gifts to children as early as December 5.
  • In most of Austria, the "Nikolo" comes together with the Krampus. Children here already put shoes or boots in front of the door the night before so that the saint can fill them with goodies on his way from house to house.
  • In Switzerland, St. Nicholas is known as "Samichlaus". Here and in Vorarlberg he gives fruit, nuts and sweets to good children. Children who are not good are put into his sack by his bearded companion "Knecht Ruprecht".
  • The best known form of Santa Claus in the world is Santa Claus from the USA. He brings the presents in the night from December 24 to 25. This very modern variant combines traditional elements of the historical Saint Nicholas from Myra, the British Father Christmas and the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Also at the Schönbrunn Christmas Market St. Nicholas may not be missing. On 5 and 6 December, from 2.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m., St. Nicholas will visit the market and hand out sweet treats. As in the old tradition, however, he is happy to receive a poem or a nice Christmas carol beforehand:

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