The month of December, and continuing into the beginning of January, is filled with many Italian traditions that make up the Christmas holiday season in Italy. The first of these holidays is the feast of St. Nicholas (San Nicola) on December 6th.
This feast is not celebrated in all parts of Italy, but where it is, great traditions take place. Bari in Southern Italy is THE place to be if you want to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas.
This is his city as this is where his remains were put after they were heisted from Myra. A huge basilica sits here in his honor.
On December 6th, young girls wishing to get married, petition the saint to act on their behalf by placing a note and three coins in a special box in the basilica in hopes that their wish will be granted. Children, on the other hand, have other desires. They put a plate out (much like our children do with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve) with a note asking for sweet gifts if they promise to be good for the coming year. They go to bed with the hopes that they will find some goodies the next morning. San Nicola comes in the middle of the night and leaves piles and piles of chocolates, candies, cookies, and other sweet delights for all the good boys and girls.
The feast of St. Nicholas is also celebrated up in Trieste in Northern Italy. The traditions were brought here probably due to the strong trade relationships that this city had with Bari. Here the grandfathers dress up like the saint and give presents of sugar to all the good children, while they give coal to all those that have been bad. I wonder how much coal they actually give out!