COLUMN: A visit by St. Nicholas

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As of Friday morning, I had an old shoe ready for St. Nicholas’ visit Sunday night. With any luck, I will have found a few pieces of chocolate inside the shoe the next morning.

Will I really get excited when I walk onto my porch Monday? Not really, but it’s worth keeping an old tradition and a reminder that some customs, no matter how far removed, are worthwhile.

While some people need no introduction to the legend of St. Nicholas — they and their ancestors have been putting out shoes on the eve of his feast day for generations — others may know nothing about the fourth-century bishop who was revered for his love of children, and whose generosity helped to inspire some of our own Christmas traditions.

A bishop in modern-day Turkey, Nicholas was a friend to the poor and downtrodden during his life. After his death, more legendary stories were passed along. Along with miraculous powers of calming storms — which made him the patron saint of sailors — and raising to life dead children, Nicholas is also credited with safeguarding the virtue of three poor girls.

According to the legend, the father of the three young women was too poor to provide them dowries and faced the prospect of abandoning them to lives of prostitution. In response, St. Nicholas tossed a bag of gold into the oldest girl’s room at night, providing the needed dowry for her to marry. He did the same, a year or so later, for the second daughter, and finally, for the youngest.

Trying to avoid being seen, Nicholas allegedly threw the final bag of gold down the family’s chimney, where it landed in a stocking hung to dry.

Sound familiar? In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas, from which sprang the name of Santa Claus.

Generations of Europeans have put their shoes out in the days ahead of St. Nicholas Day, hoping the white-bearded bishop would stop by their homes as he traveled the countryside by night.

St. Nicholas Day is Dec. 6 and Europeans coming to the rolling hills of southern Indiana brought with them their holiday traditions, among them the observance of St. Nicholas Day.

To hedge my success, I planned to stuff a few pieces of chocolate in my shoe before going to bed. I don’t mind fooling myself.

Maybe it’s whimsy or just nostalgia. But it’s an old tradition worth keeping.