Jolly Old St. Nicholas Day!

Vantage Travel Team December 1, 2017

Here’s where festivities ramp up December 6 — and where to enjoy them

As the mercury drops, inevitably holiday-card-worthy images fill our mind: Christmas trees, hot cocoa, and jolly carols. We in the States may be used to watching the starry sky for Santa’s sleigh at the end of December, but did you know that some parts of the world are already celebrating?

For most of Europe, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas on December 6, marks the true beginning of the holiday season. Although this day isn’t a common celebration in the United States, our idea of Santa Claus stems from the same legend: a 4th-century bishop known at St. Nicholas. A devout Christian, he dedicated his inheritance and life to helping the sick, the needy, and the suffering. Although the stories surrounding his life vary from country to country, one common thread connects them all — St. Nicholas was an extraordinary caretaker.

He also had a reputation as a generous giver of gifts, another tradition that blossomed into many of our holiday practices. German tales describe Nicholas dropping bags of money through the chimneys of the needy (creating the idea of Santa climbing down chimneys); French stories involve him traveling with donkeys laden with gifts (sidekicks who later metamorphosed to flying reindeer); Belgian traditions include leaving carrots or hay in the socks and shoes of children, which in the morning are replaced with treats and coins (later evolving into the practice of leaving cookies for Santa in exchange for stocking stuffers).

While these legends are the basis for many of our beloved holiday traditions, the Feast of St. Nicholas isn’t just about scoring gifts. In addition to providing a bit of holiday festivity to the waiting period of Advent, the celebration of St. Nicholas reminds us to keep the emphasis on giving and sharing gifts rather than just receiving. After all, you can shop for yourself any day, but the joy and generosity that surround the holiday season are what brings everyone together year after year.

Ready to start celebrating the season? Experience the holiday spirit of four unique countries — Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, and Germany — while enjoying some of the continent's best Christmas markets on Danube Waltz, or delve into the charm and history of several German cities where many of our own winter holiday traditions originated on Heart of Germany.

Plus, watch for special holiday-themed cruises on our traveler favorite France cruise, coming soon for 2018!