The distribution of gifts on the eve of St. Nicholas Day is based on the many legends about the saint who saved the city of Myra from famine and three young women from forced prostitution with the secret gift of golden balls.
St. Nicholas saved young women from forced prostitution with the secret gift of golden balls.
December 6 is the commemoration day of St. Nicholas of Myra. The distribution of gifts on the eve of St. Nicholas Day is based on the many legends about the saint who saved the city of Myra from famine and three young women from forced prostitution with the secret gift of golden balls.
“Heut’ ist Nikolaus Abend da” ends a well-known song sung on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church and especially in the Orthodox Church. In Russia, where Nicholas is the country’s patron saint, he ranks just behind Mary, the Mother of God. The future Bishop of Myra was born around 280 in Patara in Lycia, which is in present-day Turkey. His parents died of the plague – so the legend says. Nicholas inherited their fortune and distributed it to the poor.
Legend of the golden balls
A common legend tells that Nicholas secretly threw a gift of money in the form of golden balls through the window of a house. In this way, he could prevent the father from having to give his daughters away for prostitution. The gift of money ensured a sufficient dowry, and the three or four wives – depending on the legend – were saved.
It was not until the 15th century that the legend of Nicholas and the grain merchants of Myra spread. During a famine in Myra, Nicholas asked for a small amount of 100 bushels of grain from the ships destined for the emperor in Rome and loaded with grain. Nicholas assured that none of the grain would be missing when it was delivered – which miraculously proved true. With the grain, Nicholas’ community could be fed for years, and even seeds could be distributed.
Patron saint of children
St. Nicholas, who is also the patron saint of travelers and sailors, is considered in popular piety as a helper in almost every need. Above all, he is the patron saint of children and schoolchildren, girls and women. This protective function should also be the focus of St. Nicholas celebrations on the evening of December 5, when in many households, a man dressed as a bishop knocks on the door and asks the children if they have been good in the past year. This question to the children goes back to a well-known biblical passage that was often read for the feast of St. Nicholas: The Parable of the Talents Entrusted (Matthew’s Gospel 25:14-23). There it is told that a master entrusted money to his three servants and then went away. When the master returned, each servant had to give an account and was asked what he had done with the money. Praised are those two servants who increased their entrusted property. Quite a question that could also be asked of adults….
- hector pascua/picture: missio.at
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