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Where Saint Nicholas Left His Boots: Visiting Santa Claus in Bari, Italy

This blog post was updated on November 2, 2018.

On December 6th across the world, many celebrate the man that children believe to be behind all that Christmas cheer later in the month, Saint Nicholas. Some put their shoes out in hopes of receiving a sweet treat from Saint Nicholas on his other big day of the year. The traditions for celebrating the saint vary country by country, but perhaps no other spot on Earth gets into the spirit of the saint’s feast day more than Bari.

Set up on the Adriatic Sea, Puglia’s capital doesn’t always receive the amount of travelers of Rome or Naples, but this southern city certainly has something to sing about around the holidays. Bari is reportedly the home of the remains of good old St. Nick. How he wound up here instead of the North Pole is a whole different story. If you are considering traveling in the footsteps of Saint Nicholas this holiday season, here are a few reasons Bari should be on your radar for a little Father Christmas.

How Did Santa’s Sleigh Wind Up in Italy?: The man that has morphed into those images of Santa Claus reportedly was born in Patara, present day Turkey in 260 A.D. Nicholas became known for selling his goods, and assisting the sick, suffering and needy throughout his lifetime. As one of the most revered and famous saints in the world, Saint Nicholas is frequently mentioned as a protector of the weak, defenseless, unjustly accused, sailors and perhaps most notably children. His feast day is celebrated on December 6th across the globe. Where he resides permanently is a different story. Sailors from Bari snatched the saint’s bones from present day Turkey in 1087 and brought then to Bari where they supposedly remain.

Where Santa Really Lives? Basilica di San Nicola in Bar
i: One of southern Italy’s first Norman churches, the Basilica di San Nicola might not look like those fantasied images of the North Pole, but it does claim to be the house of Father Christmas. The Basilica di San Nicola is considered an impressive example of Puglian-Romanesque style. It was built to house the relics of St. Nicholas after local fisherman stole them from present day Turkey in 1087. You can find this Italian version of the North Pole just five minutes from the harbor, right in the Old Town of Bari overlooking the Adriatic Sea. To this day, it remains an important place of pilgrimage for many who want to be in the presence of a little bit of Saint Nick.

Creepy or Cool? Miraculous Liquids in Bari: Travelers that make it to Bari might hear about the manna di San Nicola. Apparently his bones are still breathing. A clear liquid seeps from the bones of the saint and is reportedly collected each year from his urn. The liquid is then mixed with water and is said to have healing properties. While this supposed miracle could turn off many, others make pilgrimages to Bari just for a sampling of St. Nicholas’ healing powers.

Christmas in May? Festa di San Nicola: Even if you can’t make it to Bari for St. Nick’s feast day, you can keep up the Christmas spirit in May. We have all heard of Christmas in July, but Bari decides to honor its patron in May for the Festa di San Nicola. Featuring endless processions, the event mainly consists of parading a large statue to the saint out to sea on a boat and then bringing him back into town again. The ritual commemorates when the saint’s bones arrived by sea from Turkey.


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