St Nicholas Day 2018: Why do we celebrate Santa Claus and how does it differ from Christmas?

Saint Nicholas (4th-c), the patron saint of Russia, circa 350. ( Getty Images )

Christmas is full of traditions. Presents, mince pies, Christmas trees and, yes, even the Brussels sprouts, have become hallmarks of the holiday.

We all know how important the nativity is to the story of Christmas, but where did the idea of a bearded man on a sleigh delivering sacks of gifts come from?

Santa Claus, also known as St Nicholas, has become a household name brining joy to children around the world. In some European countries, before Christmas Day, they celebrate the patron Saint with St Nicholas day.

Here’s what you need to know:

When is St Nicholas Day?

St Nicholas day is celebrated on 6th December, as this is the day which marks his death.

In the Orthodox Church, the day is celebrated on December 19.

Who was St Nicholas and what does he have to do with Santa Claus?

Circa 350 AD, Fourth-century saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, Lucia and patron saint of Russia, carrying his crozier. (Getty Images)

St Nicholas was born during the third century in the then-Greek village of Patara to wealthy parents, who later died in an epidemic.

After they died, he used his inheritance to assist the needy, sick and the suffering, obeying Jesus’s words to “sell what you own and give money to the poor.”

St Nicholas was eventually made Bishop of Myra, which is now part of Turkey.

He was renowned for having given marriage dowries of gold to three girls whose misfortune would have otherwise forced them into prostitution.

The Patron Saint became known as Nicholas the Wonderworker for his charitable endeavours and thousands of European churches were dedicated to him, including one built by Roman emperor Justinian at Constantinople (now Istanbul) as early as the 6th century.

After the Reformation, devotion to him diminished in Protestant countries. In Holland, however, his legacy lived on as the legend "Sinteerklass".

Dutch colonists took this tradition with them to America, and the legend was adopted by its English name, Santa Claus.

How is St Nicholas day celebrated?

St Nicholas Day is widely celebrated in Europe.

In Germany, the joyous day is a time when children are given cookies, candies and gifts.

In the Netherlands, the primary occasion for gift-giving is December 5, when St Nicholas’ Feast Day is celebrated.

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