Families in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure got an early Christmas present yesterday.

In this case, Old Saint Nick was played by Common Pleas President Judge Pamela Dembe. And her gift was a 30-day hold on sheriff sales of owner-occupied residential properties.

Dembe said she approved the delay - which means those properties will not be auctioned off at a scheduled Jan. 4 sale - because federal money is expected to help homeowners stay in their properties.

"I'm delighted to let people know that they can at least get through the Christmas season without that hanging over them," Dembe said.

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project pushed for the stay.

In their petition, the advocacy group said the state is set to receive money next month through the federal Emergency Homeowners Loan Program.

"If the January sale is permitted to proceed, hundreds of Philadelphia homeowners who could save their homes with funds from EHLP will lose their homes only days or weeks before that assistance becomes available," PUP wrote in its filing.

According the court filing from PUP, there are 1,200 homes listed for Sheriff's sale on Jan. 4, although about half were already slated to be postponed.