Saint Nicholas Day
In Western Christian countries, the Feast of Saint Nicholas is held on December 6 with some festivities celebrated the night before and on December 19th in the Eastern Christian countries.
Celebrations by Region
In Albania, Saint Nicholas is often known as Shen'Kolle and his feast day celebrated on the evening before December 6th in an event called Shen'Kolli i Dimnit (Saint Nicholas of Winter). In May, specifically the night before May 9th, Shen'Kolli i Majit is celebrated (Saint Nicholas of May). On December 5th, most Albanians light a candle and abstain from meat. After midnight, guests greet each other with
Nata e Shen'Kollit ju nihmofte! (May the night of Saint Nicholas help you!)
In Greece, ships at sea and at port hold festivities to celebrate the feast day. Saint Nicholas day falls into a group of feasts called Nikolobarbara (Saint Barbara, Saint Savvas, Saint Anne). Because these feasts are considered a series of days heralding the onset of cold weather, one tradition holds that homes should have had their carpets laid (that are removed for the summer) down to keep the house warm by Saint Andrew's Day (a week ahead of the feasts).
In Bulgaria, Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th as Nikulden where families celebrate with a meal of fish (usually ribnik) and two loaves of blessed bread. The host of the dinner wafts incense over the table before breaking bread.
Belgium, Germany, Netherlands
In these regions the feast day is often celebrated as Sinterklaas, an occassion for gift giving. Children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing traditional Sinterklaas songs. These shoes often contain carrots and hay in the shoes - gifts for Saint Nicholas's horse. The night before the feast, gift bags are typically left outside and a neighbor or parent bangs on the door pretending to be Sinterklaas' assistant. Some people hire a professional Sinterklaas to dress up and deliver the presents. The traditional outfit is an older man in bishop's robes and a red cape, helped by michievous helpers called Zware Pieten.
In France, a donkey carries baskets with children's gifts, biscuits and candies through the town. Families retell stories of Saint Nicholas the night before and special spiced gingerbread biscuits and mannala are baked. Saint Nicholas hands out candies and gifts while Krampus carries switches to threaten children who fear Saint Nicholas.
In Italy, a large celebration called the Festa di San Nicola is held between May 7th to Map 9th where the relics of the saint are carried on a boat in front of the city. On December 6th unmarried women wishing to find a husband attend an early-morning Mass in which they turn around a column seven times. This tradition is called the Rito delle nubili. In some provinces of Italy Saint Nicholas is celebrated with gifts and a fair called Fiera di San Niccolo on December 6th.
In Lebanon, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian communities celebrate the feast day with various fairs and feasts.
In Palestine, there is a town named Beit Jala where tradition holds that Saint Nicholas stayed for four years during his pilgrimage. Every December 19th a solemn Divine Liturgy is held in the Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas and various parades and activities are held after.
Cities with heavy German influence like Milwaukee, Evansville, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (among many others) celebrate much akin to the German celebrations. Children participating in these celebrations keep stockings or empty shoes by the fireplace the night before and Saint Nicholas deposits gifs and treats overnight.