Celebrate a German Christmas tradition, St. Nicholas Day

Celebrate a German Christmas tradition, St. Nicholas Day

by Kristi Adams
Stripes Europe

As December rushes in and American families put up their Christmas trees, they may find themselves humming the first few lines from Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”:

“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”

In America, St. Nicholas and Christmas Eve are synonymous with each other, but in Germany St. Nicholas is celebrated a bit differently. While he still operates in secrecy, as he brings presents for good children (and admonishments for naughty ones), his timeline is much earlier in Germany.

While American children may find it hard to sleep on Dec. 24, sleep evades German children on the evening of Dec. 5 in preparation for St. Nicholas Day. Shoes are cleaned, polished and placed near the front door (or a window). They awaken the next morning to find their shoes stuffed with small gifts and goodies, left by St. Nicholas.

Where does the tradition come from?

Saint Nicholas was in fact a real man and a historic Christian saint and Greek bishop. Born into a wealthy family on March 15, 270, Nicholas quickly developed a reputation for secret gift-gifting as well as a variety of miracles.

One legend in particular tells the story of St. Nicholas secretly helping a man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. With no dowry to offer a potential husband, the father feared for the future prospects of his daughters as unmarried maidens. Nicholas heard of the father’s plight, and secretly in the night, threw three bags of gold through the man’s window; one bag for each daughter. (Note: Some legends state it was one bag over three nights or one bag of gold coins – enough for each daughter, or three purses containing gold balls.) Specificities aside, the story gave rise to the tradition of secret gift-giving, by a benevolent man named St. Nicholas under the cover of night.  

St. Nicholas died December 6 in the year 343, thus the connection of celebrating this date to mark his tradition.

To this day, along with other gifts and sweets, children will often find oranges in their shoes, as a nod to the balls or bags of gold left by St. Nicholas so many years ago.

Although St. Nicholas traditions may vary a bit in Germany by region, it’s common for many villages to host a St. Nicholas Day parade, and many churches observe a St. Nicholas Day mass. Some families may even treat St. Nicholas Day as their “big gift-giving” day.

No matter how you celebrate, St. Nicholas Day is a wonderful holiday tradition to bring to your family!

To get a glimpse of how this wonderful tradition and holiday is celebrated, check out this heartwarming video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-LJXpHyv4g.  

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