There are many stories and traditions from all cultures that are observed in December.
The observance of St. Nicolas goes back to the fourth century, when he was the Bishop of Myra in what is now on the South Coast of Turkey. He is reported to have been a gentle, retiring pastor of his people, and based on his life we have the modern tradition of Santa Claus. This Santa Claus legend comes to us from the Netherlands. To this day children wait for arrival of Sint Niklaasje by ship into Amsterdam. He comes with his companion Black Peter and his white horse. There is a great procession through the streets to celebrate gifts being given to deserving children.
When the Dutch emigrated to the United States they settled in New Amsterdam (now known as New York) and with them brought customs, one of which was the arrival and celebration of Sinterklaus. When others heard the name they mispronounced it as “santa claus.” An American poet, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote The Night before Christmas, thus starting the legend of Santa Claus. From there it spread back to Europe and the rest of the world, the name being given “Father Christmas.”
In Sweden St. Lucia figures prominently. She lived in the second century in the Roman Empire when Christians were persecuted and had to meet in secret. The story goes she would bring food to these gatherings, wearing a wreath with candles on her head so she could carry the food and see the way.
The tradition developed in Sweden that a daughter, the youngest or the oldest, brings a tray of coffee and cakes, known as Lussekatts to the family, wearing the lit wreath on her head (today the headpiece is battery operated) while carrying the tray. This custom is observed on December 13th.
Some believe that custom was brought by German Protestants settling in Sweden. For them the girl chosen to be Lucia was the Christ Child who delivered gifts rather than Nicolas, who was perceived to be “Catholic.”
Enjoy these and many other stories and traditions in December!
See you next time,
I am your bro. John, O.C.P.