Tonight is St. Nicholas Eve.
Tonight we leave out our shoes, in hopes that St. Nicholas will leave a chocolate or other small gift. Tonight St. Nicholas rides his white horse, giving presents.
St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is the patron saint of New York City. (That’s why, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Santa Claus arrives last in the train. It’s a patron’s celebration.)
St. Nicholas, as well as being the patron saint of New York City, is the patron of Greece, Russia, the Kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, the Diocese of Liège; many cities in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium; Campen in the Netherlands; Corfu in Greece; Freiburg in Switzerland; and Moscow in Russia. He is patron of children, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, thieves and murderers, among many others. He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.
St. Nicholas is a saint in the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, and is honored among Protestants. When the Twin Towers fell, they fell on St. Nicholas’ Orthodox church, which held some of his relics. Those relics were never found, and are now mixed with those of other New Yorkers from that attack.
When you see a statue of a saint with three children in a tub at his feet, that’s St. Nicholas. When you see the three gold balls on the pawn-brokers’ signs, those too honor St. Nicholas. Those balls represent the three golden balls that St. Nicholas threw through a window to pay the dowries of three young ladies who would otherwise have met a bad end. The story says those balls fell in the ladies’ shoes or stockings hung by the fire to dry; the oranges that are traditionally put in Christmas stockings are symbolically those same golden spheres.
We should not speak here of Black Peter, who accompanies St. Nicholas on his rounds. Black Peter beats bad children with his cane. You were wondering what candy canes were all about, eh?