While most Americans hang stockings on Christmas Eve, those whose ancestors came from Russia, Greece, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg may hang stockings or put boots outside the door on Dec. 5, hoping to find treats on Dec. 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas.
Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara in Asia Minor. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.
According to stnicholascenter.org, his wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He became a priest, and was made Bishop of Myra.
Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Bishop Nicholas was among the church leaders to attend the Council of Nicea in AD 325. (This first council of Christian church leaders was convened by the Emperor Constantine.)
One tradition of St. Nicholas leaving presents came from a story that he anonymously gave bags of gold to the family of a poor man so his three daughters would have dowries and could marry. Sometimes the story references gold balls.
In memory of St. Nicholas, a tradition began to give anonymous presents to children -- candy, fruit and small toys -- on his feast day. Oranges or tangerines are sometimes given on St. Nicholas Day, representing the gold balls.