Nicholas of Myra

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Nicholas of Myra (Russian icon by Alexa Petrov , 1294, Novgorod Museum )

Coordinates: 36 ° 16 '  N , 29 ° 59'  E

Relief Map: Turkey
Myra / Demre

Nikolaus von Myra ( ancient Greek Νικόλαος Μυριώτης Nikólaos Myriṓtēs ; * between 270 and 286 in Patara ; † December 6, 326, 345, 351 or 365) is one of the most famous saints of the Eastern and Latin Churches . His feast day , December 6th, is celebrated throughout Christianity and is associated with numerous customs .

Nicholas worked in the first half of the 4th century as Bishop of Myra in the Lycia region of Asia Minor , at that time part of the Roman , later the Byzantine Empire , now Turkey . His Greek name Nikólaos (from νίκη and λαός ) means "victory of the people" and was already in use in pre-Christian times.

Historical person

There are few proven facts about the life of the historical Nicholas. Myra in Lycia, now Demre , is a small place about 100 km southwest of Antalya in today's Turkey. In the 4th century the place was a bishopric, the inhabitants spoke Greek. Reports about Nikolaus' life come e.g. B. by Andreas of Crete (around 700) and by a monk Johannes from the Studitenkloster in Constantinople , which was founded in the 5th century. According to consistent traditions, Nicholas was born between 270 and 286 in Patara , a city in Lycia. According to tradition, at the age of 19 he was ordained a priest by his uncle Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, and then abbot of the Sion monastery near Myra. During the Christian persecution in 310, he was captured and tortured. He distributed his inherited fortune among the needy. This is also reported by the better attested bishops of the 4th century Ambrose of Milan and Basil of Caesarea and is considered a historical fact there. There are various legends about Nicholas.

St. Andrew of Crete and John from the Studitenkloster reported that Nicholas had participated in the Council of Nicaea and there slapped his adversary Arius . That is why he was arrested first, but was rehabilitated towards the end of the council. Nicholas is not included in Nicaea's list of signatories, which, however, is incomplete. On the other hand, Bishop Theognis of Nicaea, whom Nicholas is said to have convinced of the Catholic viewpoint at the council, according to Andreas, is one of the historically documented signatories.


Statue of Saint Nicholas after the procession in Ferrarese square in Bari

After the evacuation of the city of Myra and before it was conquered by Seljuk troops in 1087, southern Italian merchants stole the relics from the saint's tomb in the St. Nicholas Church in Demre and transferred them to their native Bari . The relics are in the specially built Basilica of San Nicola . The city celebrates a festival in honor of the saint every year from May 7th to 9th, the presumed day of the arrival of the relics in Bari. The statue of St. Nicholas is carried in procession from the basilica to the port, accompanied by over 400 people in historical costumes. You can then use it to circle the bay on a boat. However, the Turkish Nicholas Foundation is demanding the saint's relics back.

Anatomical studies

During the renovation work on the Basilica of San Nicola in the 1950s, the tomb was opened on May 5, 1953 and an initial inventory of the bones was made. On May 7, 1957, a more detailed forensic examination by Luigi Martino took place. It was found to be the remains of a 72 to 80 year old man who was 167 cm tall. Examination of the skeleton revealed various findings. The deceased suffered from severe chronic arthritis of the spine and pelvis. In addition, there was a thickening of the skull bone, which possibly caused chronic headaches. Years later, the pathologist Franco Introna received photos and sketches of this examination and evaluated them using modern scientific methods. He was able to see that the skeleton is not complete, but the skull has remained largely intact and there is only a gap on the left lower jaw. Anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson used these results to reconstruct the face of the historic Nicholas . During the modeling work, she recognized an asymmetry in the nose, which may be due to a broken nose. The Discovery Channel presented the research results in the documentary The True Face of Saint Nicholas . In 2014, Caroline Wilkinson updated her work using a technically enhanced facial reconstruction technique at the School of Art and Design at Liverpool John Moores University .


Nikolaus' work has contributed to the formation of various legends , which over the centuries led to him being regarded as one of the most important saints. The legends are not only based on the life of the Bishop of Myra, but also on that of an abbot of the same name from the monastery of Sion near Myra , who later was bishop in Pinara and died in 564.

Dowry donation

Dowry donation: protection from prostitution

An impoverished man intended to make his three daughters prostitutes because he could not marry them appropriately for lack of dowry . Nicholas, not yet bishop and heir to a large fortune, learned of the plight and on three consecutive nights threw a large lump of gold through the window of the three maidens' rooms. On the third night, the father managed to discover Nikolaus, ask him his name and thank him for it. Because of this legend, the saint is often depicted with three golden balls or apples as an iconographic saint attribute .

Calming the storm at sea

Nikolaus protects the seafarers (winged altar in St. Nikolai (Oberbobritzsch) )

Shipmen in distress at sea called on St. Nicholas in their dangerous situation. A man endowed with miraculous powers appeared to them and took over the navigation , set the sails correctly and even brought the storm to bear. Then the man disappeared again. As the sailors at Myra Church prayed in thanks for their salvation, they recognized the saint and thanked him. Because of this and similar stories, Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors .


Nikolaus and the Kornwunder (altar panel in the church of St. Mariae in Mühlhausen in Thuringia)

During a great famine, the Bishop of Myra learned that a ship was anchored in the port carrying grain for the emperor in Byzantium . He asked the sailors to unload part of the grain to help out in need. At first they rejected the request that the grain had to be carefully weighed and delivered to the emperor. Only when Nikolaus promised them that they would not be harmed for their courtesy did they agree. When they arrived in the capital, they were surprised to find that the weight of the cargo had not changed despite the amount removed. The grain removed in Myra, however, lasted for a full two years and beyond for sowing.

Stratelate miracle

Stratelatenwunder (altar panel in the church of St. Mariae in Mühlhausen in Thuringia )

Nikolaus got to know three Eastern Roman generals ( Greek στρατηλάτης, stratelates , general), whom he invited to his home in Myra. They witnessed how the bishop saved three innocent people sentenced to death from execution by snatching the sword from the executioner's hand. Back in Byzantium , the three generals were victims of an intrigue and were sentenced to death themselves. In the dungeon they asked for the help of St. Nicholas, who then appeared to the emperor and the intriguer in a dream. Deeply shocked, the emperor prompted the generals to be released.

Taking home a kidnapped child

A man who wanted to ask St. Nicholas for help so that he would finally have a child no longer found the bishop alive, but just came to the funeral. He took a piece of the linen on which the saint was lying as a relic . The couple actually had a son on December 6 of the following year. However, the child was abducted to Babylonia by Arabs on his seventh birthday . Again, exactly one year later, the child, who had since had to work as a slave, was caught in a whirlwind and dropped off right in front of the Nikolauskirche, where the parents prayed for the boy's return.

Tub and infant miracles

Nicholas is said to have been so pious even as an infant that he took the mother's breast only once on the fasting days of the week, Wednesdays and Fridays. When he was about to be bathed for the first time, he was allegedly already standing upright in the tub without assistance.

Conversion of a Jew through the image of St. Nicholas

A very wealthy Jew, who had heard of the saint's miracles, had an image made for himself and ordered him to watch over his treasures while he was away . Still, his belongings were stolen by thieves. The Jew, bitter about the robbery, made serious reproaches for the portrait and punished it with lashes with a stick and a whip. St. Nicholas then appeared to the thieves and announced that they would die on the gallows if they did not bring the belongings back. Startled, the thieves returned the stolen goods and reported their apparition to the Jew. The Jew was deeply impressed.

Fighting Diana

Unmasking of Diana (altar panel in the church of St. Mariae in Mühlhausen in Thuringia)

Since many in the area around Myra still believed in the ancient Roman gods, Nicholas had a tree dedicated to Diana cut down . Angry about the destruction of her sanctuary, the goddess made Greek fire , which she gave in the form of a pious woman to sailors who made a pilgrimage to Myra by ship. When they arrived they were supposed to paint the walls of the church with the oil. Not knowing that Greek fire burns on water and stones, the pilgrims took the oil with them. On the way, a small boat with Nikolaus on board crossed their course. The saint warned the pilgrims and told them to pour the oil into the sea. They obeyed, and suddenly the entire surface of the water was on fire. When the pilgrims arrived in Myra, they recognized the man in the boat and thanked him for his salvation.

Rescue of the drowned son

A father made a pilgrimage with his son to Myra to donate a precious chalice to the church. On careful consideration the goblet seemed too valuable to him and he had a cheaper one made. During the crossing to Myra, the father asked the son to draw some water from the sea with the first goblet. During this attempt, the son fell overboard and disappeared in the waves. When the father finally arrived in Myra and wanted to put the second chalice on the altar of St. Nicholas' Church, the gift kept falling off. Suddenly the missing son was standing in the church with the first chalice and reported that St. Nicholas had saved him. The father then donated both goblets.

Punishment and pardon for a cheater

A Christian borrowed money from a Jew and promised to repay it on time. However, he did not meet this obligation and the two went to court. To avoid perjury, the Christian came up with a trick: He put the borrowed money into a hollow stick. During the oath he asked the Jew to hold the stick that long. He then swore that he had already returned the money. The Jew returned the staff and was cheated. When the two went home, the Christian was run over by a passing car and died. The stick broke in the accident and the Jew saw the guile. The bystanders asked the Jews to take the money now that the Christian had received his just punishment. The Jew replied with pity that he would only take the money if St. Nicholas brought the Christian back to life. In fact, the perjured Christian rose again and the Jew was baptized.

Raising the killed scholars

Raising of the killed scholars (altar panel in the church of St. Mariae in Mühlhausen in Thuringia)

Three scholars were greedily killed in Myra by an innkeeper with whom they stayed on the way to their place of study in Athens. The murderer cut up the corpses and cured the parts in a salt barrel. St. Nicholas found out about the crime through an angel, went to the innkeeper and told him the deed on his head. Then the saint raised the scholars to life through his intercession with God.

Raising a boy

Every year a man celebrated a festival in honor of St. Nicholas. One evening the devil, disguised as a pilgrim, asked at the door for alms. When the son was about to give the alms, the pilgrim no longer stood at the door. The son hurried after him to a crossroads. The pilgrim then showed his true colors and strangled the boy. When the father heard of the crime, he complained to the saint and asked if it was the reward for his worship. Then the son came back to life.

Spring miracle at the grave

At the burial of St. Nicholas, a spring with anointing oil rises at the head of the sarcophagus and one with water at the foot.

Nowadays the rite of the elevation of the Santa manna is part of the annual celebrations in Bari to commemorate the translation of relics. Because the manna , the liquid that formed in the original grave of the saint in Myra, is also created in the reliquary grave in the crypt of the basilica in Bari. There are different names for it: Italian manna , Latin oleum (oil) or unguentum (anointing oil), Greek myron (scented anointing oil) , Russian miron (anointing oil). In 1925 the liquid was chemically analyzed by the University of Bari and it was found to be fairly pure water. There are essentially two explanations: While some speak of a real miracle because the relics are locked throughout the year and only come into contact with the atmosphere on May 9th, others argue that it is a natural condensation . Believers confirm that they have received comfort and help from the manna; Nevertheless, this cult is not propagated or promoted, so that the difference between experiences of private faith and generally binding teachings is preserved.

The manna is won on the anniversary of the Translatio, on the evening of May 9th. In a solemn mass of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Bari-Bitonto , the Holy Spirit is invoked so that the Manna miracle may occur. The rector of the church takes the liquid from the reliquary grave, then lifts the ampoule and offers it for worship by the believers. The manna is considered a pledge of protection for the city and the pilgrims by the saint.

About half a liter or a little more is taken from the grave. Later the manna is poured into large containers with holy water and the small containers that are offered in the basilica's devotional shop are filled from them. Despite this dilution of the manna, the liquid is considered a kind of relic because it came into contact with the bones of the saint.

Glass bottles with appropriate painting and labeling are common in folk art in southern Italy.

Name variants

St. Nicholas is also known by the following names: Nikolo and Nikló ( Altbayern , Austria), St. Niklas (Austria, South Tyrol), Samichlaus , Santichlaus or Santiglaus (Switzerland), Zinniklos, Kleeschen (Luxembourg), Sunner Klaas or Sunner Klaus (Northern Germany), Tsenter Kloas (Lower Rhine), Sint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas (Netherlands and Flanders), Sint Niklaas (Belgium), Saint Nicholas (England and Ireland), Niilo (Finland, Sweden), Santa Claus (North America), San Nicola (Italy), Saint Nicolas (France), San Nicolás (Spain), São Nicolau (Portugal and Brazil), Sveti Nikolaj (Slovenia), Sveti Nikola (Croatia), Święty Mikołaj (Poland), Святой Николай / Swjatoi Nikolai (Russia) , Άγιος Νικόλαος / Ágios Nikólaos (Greece), Szent Miklós (Hungary), Свети Николай / Sweti Nikolaj (Bulgaria), Свети Никола / Sveti Nikola (Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine , Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mykoly -Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia ) , Sfantul Nicolae (Romania)

The family names Nikolai , Nikolić and Nikolaj also go back to the Slavic variants of Nikolaus .


Metal icon depicting the saint as the patron saint of fishermen with a fish in hands, Georgi Tschapkanow , Gilbert House, Stanley (Falkland Islands)

In some orthodox regional churches December 6th is celebrated according to the Julian calendar , this corresponds to December 19th of the Gregorian calendar .

In the Orthodox Church, worship has been documented since the 6th century, when Emperor Justinian built a church dedicated to Nicholas in Constantinople around 550. In the Russian Orthodox Church , besides Christ and Mary with the child, the third large icon on the iconostasis of churches is dedicated to Nicholas . Other Orthodox churches mostly show John the Baptist there . The Serbs also celebrate Nikoljdan on December 19th.

In addition to the main festival on December 6th, the Russian Orthodox Church also celebrates the translation of relics to Bari on May 9th and commemorates the birth of the saint on July 29th in the liturgy.

In the early 8th century the cult reached Italy, which at that time still had close ties to the Eastern Roman-Byzantine Empire, and soon gained great popularity. The cult of St. Nicholas came to German-speaking countries in the 10th century, probably through Theophanu , the Byzantine wife of Otto II , but perhaps also in connection with the Italian expeditions of the then East Franconian-German rulers. In particular, the noble family of the Ezzonen ( Ezzo had married Theophanus daughter Mathilde ) founded numerous Nikolauskirchen, for example in Brauweiler or Klotten , and thus promoted the spread of the Nikolauskult in the Rhineland. With the kidnapping of the presumed bones of the saint from Myra to Bari in the 11th century, which was noticed across Europe, and with the wave of city foundations by merchants in the 12th and 13th centuries, which often arose around a cooperative Nikolaikirche, a further spread took place .


The feast of St. Nicholas is not a public holiday in most countries. In Luxembourg , children in pre-school and primary school (up to the age of twelve) have no school leave.

For other reasons, December 6th is non-working in Finland , which declared itself independent on December 6th, 1917 and celebrates this day as a national holiday , and in Spain , where the constitution was ratified on December 6th, 1978 (Día de la Constitución) .

Patron saints

Nikolaus throws a lump of gold into the bedchamber of three virgins (winged altar Oberbobritzsch)

Nicholas is among other things the patron saint of peoples like Russians , Croats and Serbs as well as of regions like Lorraine and southern Italy . There is a basilica dedicated to the saint in Bari and he is the city's patron saint. The numerous legends led to the fact that he was chosen as patron saint by many other groups, by professions such as seafarer, inland navigation, merchant, lawyer, pharmacist, butcher and baker, by grain dealers, threshers, pawnbrokers, lawyers, tailors, cooper, carters and salt workers . Nikolaus is the patron saint of schoolchildren and students, pilgrims and travelers, lovers and giving birth, the elderly, acolytes and children and also of thieves, prison guards, prostitutes and prisoners. Today's customs are derived from the patronage for children.

Because of the patronage of seafarers, inland waterway traders and traders, St. Nicholas has been designated the patron saint of the German Hanseatic League and many of the cities organized in it. The social status and political rank of the professional groups involved and their pre-Reformation foundations in the Nikolaikirchen as well as the affiliation of their brotherhoods and charitable hospitals to these have led to the fact that they often became the main bourgeois churches of the cities and retained their patronage regardless of the Reformation.


The first church consecrated to St. Nicholas in Northern Germany was a Nikolaikirche in Billerbeck (before 800). The Nikolaus patronage can be found in many churches originally built by seafarers in almost all German, Baltic and Russian coastal and Hanseatic cities, but also in inland places of worship that are on rivers or in former merchant quarters, e.g. B. in Leipzig (Nikolaikirche, St. Nikolai or St. Nicolai or St. Nikolaus in Wipperfürth ). The Kreuzkirche in Dresden was also originally a Nikolaikirche. In 973 the first church in southern Germany was consecrated to St. Nicholas, the Nikolauskapelle in Kempten .

regional customs

Nicholas as a gift bringer

Traditional Santa Claus
giving presents for children in Jexhof in Upper Bavaria
The church tower of St. Niklaus in the Swiss canton of Valais is decorated as a Santa Claus figure in Advent. According to the entry in the Guinness Book of Records , it is the world's largest figure of St. Nicholas.

The feast day of the saint is associated with many customs . Some were originally related to the Church's pericope order . On December 6th, the pericope of the parable of the entrusted talents, Mt 25 : 14–30  EU , was binding . The well-known custom of asking children by St. Nicholas whether they were also good and pious goes back to this parable.

The use of inlay, the nocturnal filling of shoes or the like, is based on the legend of the three virgins who were given gifts at night by St. Nicholas. Originally St. Nicholas Day was also the day when Christmas presents were given. In some countries this is still the case today. It was only as a result of the Reformation's rejection of the veneration of saints that the giving of presents was postponed to Christmas in many countries, and as a result, Nicholas was replaced in some places by the Christ Child as the bringer of gifts . Through this mutual relationship has the US Customs to the 19th-century Santa Claus Santa Claus developed the world's dominant today, mercantile certain reception of St. Nicholas.

In medieval monastery schools there was a custom that children were allowed to choose a “ child bishop ” from their ranks on St. Nicholas Day. According to the principle of the "upside-down world" he preached to adults and was allowed to reprimand their behavior. In some places he stayed in "office" until December 28th, Innocent Children's Day .

“Setting a boat” is the name given to the custom , known since the 15th century, of making St. Nicholas' ships out of paper or other material, in which the saint should place his gifts. The background to this custom is likely to be the ship's patronage. Even today there is an image of St. Nicholas on many merchant ships. The Santa Claus boat was later replaced by boots, shoes or stockings, to which the gift plate was added later. On the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, children put shoes, boots or plates in front of the door or hang stockings in front of the fireplace so that the saint can fill them with nuts , tangerines , chocolate , gingerbread , etc. on his way through the night . In addition, there is often a bread made from yeast dough in the morning .

In many narrative variations, St. Nicholas gives gifts and praises the good children, while he rebukes the bad ones and punishes them with blows with a birch rod . In his “golden book” he reads which children were good and which were bad in the last year. Many parents invite a volunteer or paid Santa Claus to preach such a “sermon” to the children at home, which always ends with a gift.

In Luxembourg , gifts are usually given on December 6th and less on Christmas.

Nicholas and his company

Nicholas with his Krampus and angels , Salzburger Land
Nikolaus, Nikoloweibl and the Buttnmandl , Berchtesgadener Land
Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht , Vorarlberg

As a terrifying assistant, St. Nicholas was given companions in various countries. These presumably go back to the Satan's myth, pre-Christian Roman Saturnalia and Pan worship, Germanic or perhaps in the Alpine region also pre-Bavarian customs and represent “the tamed” and “the projected evil par excellence”. In some cases, tasks were also assigned, so is in the poem by Theodor Storm the Companion of the Bringer of Gifts.

In all of Austria, Old Bavaria and South Tyrol, Hungary, the Czech Republic, parts of northern Italy and Croatia as well as in the Romanian and Serbian Banat , Nikolaus (Nikolo) comes on the evening before St. Nicholas Day with the Krampus or regionally with several Krampusses (Kramperln). While Santa Claus rewards the children who have been good throughout the year with gifts, the Krampus rattles chains and scares the children who have been angry. The Krampus is an independent figure of tradition, which is distantly related to the Perchten , but only appears as an entourage of Nicholas. The Krampus themselves hunted the evening before, December 5th (Krampus Day) , like a wild hunt through the villages (Krampus Run), untamed by St. Nicholas before his appearance.

In the southern Allgäu , a similar tradition takes place on the evenings before St. Nicholas Day (more precisely: December 4th to 6th), the driving in Klaus . During the Swiss Klausjagen ( Chlausjagen ) on December 5th, the "Samichlaus" is driven through the village in reverse, especially colorful in the Schwyzerischen Küssnacht.

In the municipalities of Berchtesgadener Land , similarly rough and wild manifestations are common as a retreat during Advent, especially on December 5th and 6th. This is where Nikolaus Kramperl - or buttnmandl groups (= basses ) clad in straw and their more manoeuvrable Gankerln protect them . All of them have cowbells slung around their hips - the Buttnmandln are particularly large and the Gankerln the smallest - so that they ensure a continuous ringing sound while running. In parts of the county Berchtesgaden north of it as in Bad Reichenhall and the Rupertiwinkel drive Perchten not just about Nikolaus time, but as in the neighboring Austrian Alpine region for several weeks in the rough nights mischief.

The group of Nicholas and companions (Krampus, angels, basket carriers, etc.) is referred to in Upper German customs as a pass or bass . Other figures are the Bartl and the Klaubauf , as female figures in Bavaria the Butzenbercht and the Hessian Fraache (mistress, little woman). In the Berchtesgadener Land there is also the Nikoloweibl , while in the Krampus area an angel plays the female counterpart.

In the northern and central German-speaking area, generally also in the Protestant area of ​​influence, Nikolaus is not accompanied by Krampussen, but by the servant Ruprecht , who was originally probably also a Perchten figure; regionally Knecht Ruprecht also comes instead of Nikolaus.

In the Netherlands , the Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is the helper of Sinterklaas . Other figures are Schimmelreiter in the former East Prussia , Bullerklas in North Germany, Beelzebub , Pelzebock or Hans Muff in the Rhineland, Hans Trapp in Alsace, Housecker in Luxembourg, Père Fouettard in France, Rupelz (Rüpelz) in German Lorraine, Pelznickel on the Middle Rhine, Klaus in Allgäu and Schmutzli in German-speaking Switzerland. Some partly resemble the Ruprecht figure, others form the transition to the Krampus custom. In the southern room join with the alemannischen Kinderfresser ( Chindlifrässer ) and the Bavarian Butzenbercht also Schiachperchtenfiguren to Nicholas and Ruprecht and form fit like groups.

An exception is the Pelzmärtel in Franconia, which, in a similar appearance, is equated with St. Martin and comes on November 11th, St. Martin's Day - this figure also appears as a companion to St. Nicholas in neighboring regions.

Collecting gifts

Another custom is common as a prehistoric custom . On the evening of December 6th, children dress up as Santa Claus and go from house to house. The residents try to guess who is hiding under the Santa Claus disguise and then give a small amount of money or sweets with them on the way. Around Kassel it is called Glowesabend (Klausabend = Nikolausabend), in Siegerland Platt it is also called “Kloas”.

In the city of Bremen the so-called Sunnerklauslauf (Nikolauslauf) takes place in the late afternoon of December 6th , during which children in disguise go from shop to shop, recite a (Low German) saying and ask for sweets.

Other customs

A key ring with a portrait of Nikolaus von Myra as the patron saint of seafarers


Seafaring customs with Nicholas as the patron saint of seafarers exist as a Klaasohm custom on the island of Borkum (December 5th / 6th, in connection with the gift bringer) in connection with the return of the fishermen.

In Missen-Wilhams there has been an international St. Nicholas meeting every year since 2013. The Nikolaus actors move through the village to the parish church. At the end of the service, they are blessed with a St. Nicholas relic and sent out for their service. They then meet to exchange experiences. In 2016, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood in Missen was founded from this meeting.


A finger relic from Bari has been kept in the pilgrimage site of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port in Lorraine since 1090. Processions in honor of Nicholas have been held there for over 760 years.


In the Netherlands and parts of the Emsland , Sinterklaas arrives in mid-November with the ship "from Spain", the former colonial power of the Netherlands after Emperor Charles V. The ship docks in a different port every year, and Sinterklaas goes through together with Zwarten Piet the port city and other large cities. Since 2001, a fictional news program called "Sinterklaasjournaal" has been reporting on the events around Sinterklaas on a daily basis on the Dutch public broadcaster . The actual St. Nicholas Eve , the Pakjesavond , is celebrated on December 5th. Especially for children, the gifts are given on Pakjesavond, and only recently on Christmas Eve .


In Gams bei Hieflau (Ennstal / Gesäuse, Styria) the Thomasnikolo will take place on December 21st. Nicholas is replaced by the apostle Thomas ; the other customs (bag bearers, the Santa Claus woman, the old man, the Thomashutzn (a bird figure) and some "normal" Krampusse ) are similar to the Berchtesgadener customs.


In addition to the St. Nicholas custom around December 6th or at Christmas, there is also a New Year 's Eve in some Reformed areas of Switzerland , such as Appenzell Ausserrhoden , Bernese Oberaargau and Zurich Oberland . The custom of the saints was linked with the New Year's custom.

In Freiburg im Üechtland , Switzerland, the traditional St. Nicholas Festival with a parade takes place every year on the first Saturday in December . Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of this city and the cathedral is also dedicated to him.

Since 1998, around fifty Harley riders, disguised as Santa Clauses, have been presenting their lavishly decorated motorbikes in Basel on the first Saturday in December, driving in convoy through the city and giving children bags of peanuts and sweets. They collect money for the Theodora Foundation , which organizes clown visits for sick children in hospitals. Similar parades with a charitable background also take place in Zurich .

Farmer rules

Peasant rules for St. Nicholas Day are, for example:

“If it rains on Nicholas,
the winter will be severe, a horror.
Dry St. Nikolaus,
mild winter around the house. "

"If birch sap still flows to Nicholas,
the winter will not get any strength."

"St. Nicholas
washes out the banks. "

Reception in art


In the Latin Church, St. Nicholas is traditionally depicted in the robe of a Catholic bishop with miter , crook and in a chasuble or cope , often with a pallium . The red and white coloring was common in many areas, gold and white elsewhere. More rarely, Nicholas is depicted with a book, three golden balls, three loaves of bread or three apples as attributes . The icons of the Eastern Church usually show him in the bishop's robe (mostly with a Y-shaped pallium and without a head covering), with a book of the gospels and a teaching or blessing gesture.

One of the oldest and most famous icons of the saint can be found in the Pinacoteca Metropolitana di Bari . It dates from the 13th century and is almost intact. The central image shows the saint, framed by 16 illustrations of biographical and legendary episodes, of which only the fourteenth and fifteenth have been destroyed.


The coats of arms depictions of St. Nicholas mostly show the respective regional bishop's costume and other saint attributes .


See also


Biographies and Religious Studies


Legends and customs

  • Peter Bahn: Nikolaus and Santa Claus - The wintry gifts. (= Publication accompanying the special exhibition of the same name in the Museum im Schweizer Hof in Bretten , November 24, 2016 to January 15, 2017). Museum im Schweizer Hof, Bretten 2016, ISBN 978-3-928029-61-2 , pp. 8-16.
  • Manfred Becker-Huberti : Saint Nicholas. Life, legends and customs. Greven-Verlag, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-7743-0371-1 .
  • Fabian Brand, Esther Schulz: The Nicholas Book. Worth knowing about the festival. Herder, Freiburg 2017, ISBN 978-3-451-37711-2 .
  • Alois Döring (Ed.): Fascination Nikolaus - cult, custom and commerce. Klartext, Essen 2001, ISBN 978-3-89861-032-2 .
  • Oswald Adolf Erich, Richard Beitl , Klaus Beitl : Dictionary of German Folklore. (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 127). 3. Edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-520-12703-2 , pp. 599-603.
  • Martin Hallinger: Nicholas and his Buttnmandl. Plenk, Berchtesgaden 2004, ISBN 3-927957-59-3 .
  • Patrik Hof: How St. Nicholas conquered people's hearts. In: PM History 12/2006. Gruner + Jahr, Hamburg 2016, ISSN  2510-0661 , pp. 6–13.
  • Alfred Läpple : Small Lexicon of Christian Customs. Pattloch, Augsburg 1996, ISBN 3-629-00679-5 , pp. 171-173.
  • Thomas Ludewig (Ed.): Christkind, Santa Claus & Co. - Cultural history about the Christmas gifts. (= Publication accompanying the special exhibition of the same name in the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss , November 29, 2007 to January 27, 2008). Clemens Sels Museum, Neuss 2007, ISBN 978-3-936542-35-6 , pp. 70–84.
  • Dominik Meiering , Stefan Lesting (eds.): Nikolaus manual. BDKJ Cologne, Cologne 2015, ISBN 978-3-00-050681-9 .
  • Karl Meisen: Nicholas cult and custom in the West. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1931 (reprint, Schwann, Düsseldorf 1981, ISBN 3-590-32202-0 ).
  • Werner Mezger: Saint Nicholas. Between cult and slapstick. Schwabenverlag, Ostfildern 1993, ISBN 3-7966-0723-3 .
  • Helga Mondschein: Saint Nicholas. Stories & Legends. St. Benno, Leipzig 2004, ISBN 3-7462-1729-6 .
  • Gertrude Sartory, Thomas Sartory: Saint Nicholas - The truth of the legend. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 1981, ISBN 3-451-07897-X .
  • Chlaus . In: Schweizerisches Idiotikon . Volume 3, Huber, Frauenfeld 1892, columns 687-698.
  • Heiko Völker: Saint Nicholas in the land of Hadeln. How Saint Nicholas got into the coat of arms of the district of Cuxhaven. In: Men from Morgenstern , Heimatbund an Elbe and Weser estuary e. V. (Ed.): Niederdeutsches Heimatblatt. No. 791. Nordsee-Zeitung, Bremerhaven, November 2015, pp. 2–3 ( PDF; 1.5 MB ).

Web links


Commons : Nikolaus von Myra  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Life, legends and customs

Religious studies

Individual evidence

  1. Different information for year of birth and death depending on the source
  2. ^ Anatomical Examination of the Bari Relics. In: Accessed December 6, 2017 .
  3. The Truth of the Wild Nicholas. In: December 5, 2009, accessed December 6, 2017 .
  4. The true face of St. Nicholas. In: Retrieved December 6, 2017 .
  5. TV tip: Discovery Channel reconstructs “Great Santa Claus”. In: November 21, 2007, accessed December 6, 2017 .
  6. The Real Face of St. Nicholas. In: Accessed December 6, 2017 .
  7. Father Christmas: Saint Nicholas' face revealed. In: December 6, 2014, accessed December 24, 2019 .
  8. On the whole see: Gerhard Müller (Ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 24. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1994, pp. 566-568; Engelbert Kirschbaum (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian Iconography . tape 8 . Herder, Freiburg i.Br. u. a. 1979, p. 45 ff .
  9. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 26 f.
  10. ^ A b Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 28.
  11. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1984, pp. 29–31.
  12. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 34.
  13. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 26.
  14. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 32 f.
  15. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 28 f.
  16. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 33 f.
  17. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 32.
  18. After Gerhard Müller (Ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 24. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1994, p. 567, this legend originated in France, cf. Karl Meisen: Nicholas cult and custom in the West. 1931.
  19. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 33.
  20. ^ Richard Benz (translation): The Legenda Aurea of ​​Jacobus de Voragine. 10th edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1984, p. 31.
  21. The following details are taken from the sections “Sagro di Maggio” and “La Manna di San Nicola” on the website of the Basilica San Nicola in Bari: (accessed December 8, 2014).
  22. Manfred Becker-Huberti: Celebrations, festivals, seasons. Living customs all year round. Herder Verlag Freiburg − Basel − Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-27702-6 , p. 59.
  23. Walter König. Interview. Hedwig Kainberger: The funny game with evil . In: Salzburger Nachrichten . December 12, 2009, Culture, p. 11 ( article archive ).
  24. ^ Theodor Storm : Knecht Ruprecht in the Gutenberg-DE project
  25. Kaya Leimann: Nikolauslauf through the districts. In: December 5, 2011, accessed December 6, 2017 .
  26. ^ Brotherhood of St. Nicholas of Myra. In: allgaü Retrieved December 6, 2017 .
  27. Thomasnikolo. In: December 5, 2011, accessed December 6, 2017 .
  28. Harley-Niggi-Näggi Event. In: Retrieved December 6, 2017 .
  29. ^ Nikolaus von Myra in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints