Today is Saint Nicholas Day (German = Nikolaus). Unfortunately my shoes turned up to be empty this morning, might be due to the fact that there’s no “Saint Nicholas Day” in the US. Oh well, but I did put a little something in J’s boot this morning. He’ll be surprised :)
In Germany, Saint Nicholas Day is a celebration for children related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts.
Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas/Santa Claus. He was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In continental Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is usually portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. [Wikipedia]
The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive from these legends of Saint Nicholas (I just learned this!).
Saint Nicholas is usually celebrated by children putting a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5 December. Saint Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead. Sometimes a Saint Nicholas impersonator also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes ostensibly checking his golden book for their record). He is often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Rupert). Tradition holds that he appears on St. Nicholas day alongside Saint Nicholas (often, his black clothes and dirty face are attributed to the soot he collects as he goes down chimneys) and hands out a the switch to the naughty children. He was pretty scary (at least to me when I was a kid) and the whole giving-a-switch-to-chastise-naughty-children is a pretty cruel concept, if I think about it now! Ha! (What is it with the Germans and their cruel traditions and kids’ books? ;)). Well-behaving children, of course, received sweets and little gifts from Saint Nicholas’ big sack. [Wikipedia]
When we were really little, it must have been around kindergarten-age, my Grandma kept a big golden book that she gave to Saint Nicholas, obviously some family member that dressed up with a white beard and a red coat, who read from the book if we had behaved well over the last year. I always had great respect for Saint Nicholas, and so do Tom and Greta. Ha! My uncle usually dresses up as Saint Nicholas every year and visits my sister’s house to talk to the kids! So much fun!
I think I am going to go home tonight and make some hot chocolate. Hot chocolate perfectly makes up for an empty boot this morning, don’t you think?!