Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Story of Saint Nicholas

Traditions (and keeping up with them) are near and dear to my heart.  My family has traditions for almost every holiday.  At Thanksgiving we eat the same meal every year, along with the tradition of baking blueberry muffins for breakfast.  For Christmas I received the same gifts (in different variations) every year: a nutcracker, an angel, a porcelain doll, a snow baby, etc., etc., etc.  My mom hung the same old, ratty angel on the tree every year no matter how much I begged we got a new one (but it wasn't until the year before she passed that I learned that my uncle had made it for her when he was in kindergarten).  But, one thing my family has done since I can remember, that I plan to continue on for our children, is the tradition of placing our wooden shoes out every year on December 5th in hopes that Saint Nicholas will arrive that night.

The story of Saint Nicholas, throughout Germany, goes something like this:

In Roman Catholic areas of southern Germany, such as Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus still comes as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop's miter and staff. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and children clean and polish their shoes or boots in preparation for the saint's visit. On the evening before St. Nicholas Day, children put letters to the good saint along with carrots or other food for his white horse or donkey on a plate or in their shoes. These are left outside, under the bed, beside a radiator, or on a windowsill in hopes of finding goodies from St. Nicholas the next morning. During the night Sankt Nikolaus goes from house to house carrying a book in which all the children's deeds are written. If they have been good, he fills their plate, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and candies. If not, they may find potatoes, coal, or twigs.

Children practice poems and songs for Sankt Nikolaus and make little presents for him.  Friends and neighbors come to share in the fun. Candles on the Advent wreath and the big Christmas pyramid with a nativity scene in the center are lit. Stories are read or songs sung as everyone waits for a knock on the door. When it comes, they all know it is Sankt Nikolaus, who comes in with his big book, golden crozier, and a big heavy sack. One of the children gets to hold the golden staff. Each child (and sometimes adults, too) stand in front of the saint. Nikolaus asks each child, "Have you behaved yourself?" "Do you do your homework?" "Do you keep your room tidy?" "Do you help your parents?" Then he opens his big sack and gives presents and candies and treats for all to share. And they give him the little surprises. Nikolaus leaves quickly as he has many places to visit. He travels with a white horse or a donkey and sometimes Ruprecht, his most common German companion, is with him. 

Some areas have local customs. In Stuttgart, for example, kids dress up as Nikolaus and go door-to-door asking for sweets—much like trick-or-treating in the United States

In some parts of Germany Nikolaus has come to look more like Santa and Father Christmas and comes at Christmas, not St. Nicholas Day. The influence of other countries, television, and large department stores makes it more difficult to find holy Bishop Nicholas. Even when he comes on December 5th, his appearance sometimes shows that Germany's long-standing gift-givers, Sankt Nikolaus and the Christkindl, are being transformed.

Our shoes are out & Saint Nicholas has arrived, but we're off to dream sweet dreams and look forward to seeing what Saint Nicholas has brought us in the morning!

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!!!

1 comment:

  1. Happy St. Nicholas Day.
    Aunt Kathy used to do that with her children and candy, fruit and nuts were left for the children. I'm sure Brad does not remember that because they were young when we would visit on that day.
    It is a fun "German" tradition and glad to see that our heritage lives on with our children.