St. Nicholas was a Turkish cardinal in the 4th century who was known for his kindness to children and helping those in need. His feast day is celebrated on December 6. He was renowned for secretly giving gifts and placing coins in the shoes of the needy. In one story St. Nicholas helped a man who had three daughters who couldn’t marry by throwing bags of money in their house when they came of age but being very modest he did it in the night so the man would thank God instead. He is the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors. He is likely the partial inspiration for the modern-day Santa Claus.
St. Nicholas Day has many traditions. Here are a few!
- Children receive gifts in their shoes, like coins and chocolate. This is likely where the Christmas stocking tradition originated.
- There is a large meal with family and friends to celebrate.
- In some families, a male figure will dress up as St. Nick on the eve before the special day.
The Immaculate Conception
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. It is one of the most important Marian feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, celebrated worldwide. It is the patronal feast day of the United States.
The feast was first solemnized as a Holy Day of Obligation and is often celebrated with parades, fireworks, processions, ethnic foods, and cultural festivities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The modern custom of an annual “Mothers’ Day” has been associated in Spain with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In Spain, December 8 is Mothers’ Day, and thus the great feast of our Lady has also become an outstanding day of joyful family celebrations in honor of mothers everywhere in that country.
Lucy, whose name means “light” or “lucid,” is the patron saint of the blind and those with eye trouble. Falling within the Advent season, Saint Lucy’s Day is viewed as an event signaling the arrival of Christmastide, pointing to the arrival of the Light of Christ.
In parts of Europe, the feast day is celebrated with a special dessert of wheat in hot chocolate milk. A special baked bun, Lussekatt, also known as a St. Lucy Bun, made with saffron is a very popular tradition.
A Croatian and Hungarian custom is to plant wheat in a small pot on St. Lucy’s feast. By Christmas green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene as the symbol of Christ in the Eucharist.
In Scandinavia, she is represented as a lady in a white dress and red sash with a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Norway, Sweden, and Swedish-speaking regions of Finland, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung.
In the Philippines, villagers hold a novena to St. Lucy nine days before her feast. A procession of the saint’s image is held every morning at the village center during the nine days leading up to St. Lucy’s Day.
Saint Lucy’s Prayer:
Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation — every corner of our day. Amen
Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 9, 1531, Our Lady appeared to a simple Aztec Indian who had converted to the Catholic faith, Juan Diego. Three days later, Mary provided a sign so the local bishop would believe she had appeared: roses grew out of the cold winter soil, and when Juan Diego opened his cloak to show the bishop what he had gathered, an image of Our Lady appeared on the fabric-the miraculous image of a “woman clothed with the sun.” The sun that she wears is the light of Christ who gives light and life to all.
December 12 is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and unborn children. Many Hispanic countries have a special celebration leading up to the December 12th feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
How Do You Celebrate?
Tell us how you celebrate the feast days of St. Nicholas, the Immaculate Conception, St. Lucy or Our Lady of Guadalupe. What other traditions do you observe during the Advent season? Email us about your family’s time-honored celebrations.