Skip to comments.Celebrating Nikolaus in Germany
Posted on 12/06/2009 6:17:16 AM PST by GonzoII
Published: 4 Dec 09 10:13 CET
Each December 6, German children celebrate Nikolaus. Why does the Santa look-alike come so early and why do all the children place their shoes outside their front doors on the evening before? The Local has the lowdown.
Is Nikolaus the same as Santa Claus?
Though they have similar outfits, Nikolaus is not to be confused with Santa Claus, who Germans call the Weihnachtsmann, or Father Christmas. They are two different people. In fact, many religious families try to focus more on Nikolaus earlier in December to insure that Christmas is actually about Jesus birth, and not presents from an Americanised and commercialised Santa.
Who is Nikolaus, then?
Each year on December 6, Germans remember the death of Nicholas of Myra (now the Anatolia region of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly, and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students. Known as Nicholas the Wonderworker for his miracles, he is also identified with Santa Claus. Beliefs and traditions about Nikolaus were probably combined with German mythology, particularly regarding stories about the bearded pagan god Odin, who also had a beard and a bag to capture naughty children.
Why do children set their shoes out on the night of December 5th? Doesnt he have any?
Of course Nikolaus has shoes. The custom began because the historical St. Nicholas had a reputation for leaving secret gifts, such as coins, in peoples shoes overnight. Kids traditionally put out their boots, though shoes or stockings will suffice for those without boots.
And the boots have to be polished first?
Definitely. Dirty boots are unacceptable. Children polish their boots to show theyve been good. They usually place just one boot outside their door so they dont appear too greedy, though.
One polished boot: Check! What happens next?
According to the legend, Nikolaus comes in the middle of the night on a donkey or a horse and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys - for good children.
What do naughty children get?
This depends on different family traditions. Sometimes Nikolaus only leaves a switch in the boot, ostensibly for spankings, to show that the child doesnt deserve a treat. In other families, a man disguised as St. Nicholas will visit the family or the childs school alone or with his with his sinister-looking alter ego Knecht Ruprecht to question the children about their behaviour.
Crikey. What does he do if the kids admit to being naughty?
Depending on how strict the childrens parents are, St. Nicholas will give them a verbal warning or even a pretend spanking with a rod.
Hey, hes a Saint isnt he? Saints cant spank little kids.
Well, the rod is more an invention of parents who wanted to teach their children a lesson over the years.
That spoils the fun a bit, doesnt it?
Certainly! Children were often quite frightened of being questioned about their behaviour because theyve been told that St. Nicholas will hurt them with his rod or even put them in a sack and take them away.
Though the custom is in decline, in more Catholic regions, parents inform a local priest of naughty behaviour. The priest then pays a personal visit wearing the traditional Christian garb to threaten the little rugrats with a beating.
What does his outfit look like?
He is usually pictured with a long white beard, a bishop's mitre and a red cloak, sometimes with a sack over his shoulder and a rod in his hand.
Does Nikolaus come again on Christmas Eve then?
No. Santa Claus, or the Weihnachtsmann, usually comes to German homes often in person on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
As an Army brat, we lived in Germany for 4 years during my grade school days. We took to the custom of putting one shoe outside the door to be filled with candy. It was a great way to get Christmas chocolate and candy canes early. The first year we did this my youngest sister was just starting to eat Cheerios. So we put her bootie out and yes...it was filled with Cheerios!
What I really enjoyed was opening our advent calendars every day. It isn’t as popular here, and advent calendars can be hard to find...or I’m not looking hard enough.
They're still popular in Germany.
What is even better is that at least two of the neighbors came by and added things to the mix.
One twist, we had him write his desires for a Christmas present and leave it rolled up in his shoe. As it was gone this morning we suspect that Santa is in possession! Now to wait until the 24th.
Thank you! My 40 yo son reminded that it was St. Nikolaus day. That’s one my kids happy memories.
We never had Santa Claus, but the saint.
An "Anglican World" Christmas Special: St. Nicholas, a Saint For Today
Saint Nicholas of Myra, By Ilya Repin
How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus: One Theory
An Orthodox priest at Bari; the story of St. Nicholas' bones
Turkish Town Exchanges St. Nick for Santa (Former Myra, hometown of St. Nicholas)
The Real St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas belongs in any reclamation of Christmas
Don't forget: St. Nicholas' Day is tomorrow [today] (get your shoes out!)
Life of Saint Nicholas the Bishop, from The Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Voragine
Yes, There Really is a St. Nicholas !
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