St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, and pawnbrokers. He was born in Asia Minor (now Turkey) around 270 AD to wealthy parents who died when he was a teenager. After their death, he gave away his inheritance and lived as a Christian hermit for many years before becoming the bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey). After his death on December 6th 343 AD, legends spread about how kind and generous St. Nicholas had been to those in need, which inspired people to honor him by giving gifts on December 6th each year; and that is how he became the inspiration for Santa Claus.
Today, December 19th has become associated with Christmas presents because it falls on or near Saint Nicholas’ feast day. Therefore, encouraging young children throughout much of Europe to place their wooden shoes by the fireplace filled with straw, hay, or carrots for the saint’s donkey to eat during his visit. In exchange, these children would get a small gift of candy or fruit from their shoes in the morning, which eventually evolved into larger gifts being given under Christmas trees by Santa Claus.
There is still an association of December 19th with giving presents in much of Europe. However, the day has become mostly a secular holiday known as “Boxing Day” in many English-speaking countries (where people give each other presents instead). This is because it falls near to Saint Nicholas’ feast day of December 25th, when Christmas celebrations were moved by Pope Gregory III after they had previously been celebrated on January 14th.
The change allowed more time between the celebrations of the birth and death of Jesus. In addition to that, it also gave people more time to travel home from far away for Christmas, which made it easier for Christian missionaries to spread the news about the holiday after returning from their work.
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