Customs and Traditions: Sinterklaas (The Feast of St. Nicholas)

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas. In an all too rare bit of convergence, this is so in the calendars of the usus antiquior, usus recentior and the Byzantine liturgical calendar. Within Central and Northern Europe, particularly Holland, it is known as "Sinterklaas" and this feast is marked by various customs both on the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day and also the day itself. To this day, the figure of "Sinterklaas" in many of those countries is still vested as a bishop:

Francis X. Weiser in the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs speaks to the customs associated with this feast, from which our modern notion of "Santa Claus" is derived:
In many parts of Europe children still receive his "visit" on the eve of his feast. Impersonated by a man wearing a long white beard, dressed in the vestments of a bishop, with mitre and crozier, he appears in the homes as a heavenly messenger. Coming at the start of Advent, he admonishes the children to prepare their hearts for a blessed and holy Christmas. He examines them on their prayers. After exhorting them to be good, he distributes fruit and candy and departs with a kindly farewell... (p. 340)
As for St. Nicholas himself, he was bishop of Myra in Lycia and he died on this day in the middle of the fourth century. He was imprisoned for his faith during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, but released by the Emperor Constantine. He remains to this day an important figure in both church history and popular piety.

Reliquary of St. Nicholas

Festal chasuble for the Feast of St. Nicholas

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