Informant is from Redlands, California, and is a descendant of Italian American refugees who came to the United States during World War II. This is a holiday that her family celebrates that is not commonly celebrated in California.
What exactly is St. Nicholas Day?
“So it’s a holiday that’s mainly celebrated in the Catholic communities in Southern Europe, like Italy, but it mostly celebrated in small rural areas all over. My family has celebrated it since I was born, but I haven’t really seen anybody else celebrate it, so I feel like it’s pretty unique to us. It’s on December 6th, and is about St. Nicholas, who is a guy who would go around during Christmas and give out toys and candy to impoverished children who are well behaved. It’s very much in line with Christmas, and is sort of a time where the little kids are reminded to be good.”
How is it celebrated?
“On the night of December 5th, you leave your shoes out on the porch, and when you wake up on the morning of December 6th, you find that your shoes filled with candies, cookies, and sweets. We also each got a card from St. Nick saying that we’ve been very good and to keep up the good work because Christmas was right around the corner. Now that I think about it, it was pretty much bribery for us to behave and value family so we would get good gifts for Christmas. If you were bad however, St. Nick’s assistant Rupert would come and beats you soundly with a holly stick, so nobody ever wanted to misbehave. This happens every year until you turn 18 years old, after which St. Nick no longer comes around. Even today, I’m not really sure who brought the gifts for us, cause I know it wasn’t my parents, but I think it was one of my distant aunts.”
To me, this sounded very much like a part of Christmas tradition, yet it had very unique rituals related to it that I had never heard of before. St. Nicholas is a common figure in Christmas folklore, yet I have never seen him celebrated in this way. This holiday reveals that even within the same religion, there are regional variations and celebrations that are related to similar concepts, but are very unique from each other. To see a celebration that sounds so familiar, yet is unlike anything that I’ve seen before is very interesting, and makes me wonder how all of these variations have developed from the same holiday.