HERE is a detailed description at the St. Nicholas Center of the history and legends surrounding St. Nicholas, who was born in third-century Greece on December 6. The account includes the stories of how this patron saint of children and unmarried women provided the dowry for three poor girls and how he saved a ship from sinking. He is also the patron saint of sailors:
Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus’ life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.
While Europeans have many St. Nicholas Day traditions, it is less observed here, where St. Nicholas has become Santa Claus. But when I was growing up we always had a party on St. Nicholas Day. We, my brother and sisters, would each invite two friends home after school. They were told to bring an empty coffee can with them. My mother made dozens of cut-out sugar cookies in the shape of reindeer, stars, angels, snowmen, bells, wreaths and Christmas trees. She set up little bowls of different colored icings, various sprinkles and silvered sugar balls, and paintbrushes, all spread out on newspapers. We all decorated our cookies and afterward had cake with gold coins on top. Each guest took home cookies in a coffee can. Some of the cookies were … interesting. Some guests were artists, and others were not.