Waking Up to St. Nikolaus Day…Shhhh…

I have a holiday secret. A how-could-you-forget kind of bad mommy secret.

This might be the first year my German friends didn’t accidentally alert me that I missed St. Nikolaus Day. “Oh, you wouldn’t believe I found the freshest marzipan or chocolade and the kids loved finding it in their shoes this morning… .”

Oh crap. Not again. What excuse for forgetting will work?  St. Nik was too tired, or needed extra time to find our house. Or, the dreaded, “Are you sure you were good enough this year… ?” even if they were… . Not.


-image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

German traditions are filled with storied saints and anticipatory–if not reflective–children. St. Nikolaus Day is no different. The 6th of December is St. Nikolaus` Day in Germany and those tiny pockets of the US in German immigrant communities.  Traditionally children polish up their shoes and put them outside their bedroom doors to collect a Lebkuechen cookie, some dried plums or perhaps some twigs. Oh, no! Yes, twigs. The dreaded twigs.  A twist, for certain on the old “…been bad? Get coal” routine. But this year, it wasn’t my German friends who tipped me off. It was my youngest. “Psssst, Mom. Don’t forget this week St. Nikolaus comes. And, I really love Ghiradelli chocolate… .”  

Hmmm. No secrets there.

http://www.german.lifetips.com describes the St. Nikolaus Day tradition as follows:

According to folklore, St. Nikolaus appears overnight and put little gifts into their boots if children have been `good` throughout the year. `Bad` kids will only receive a bunch of twigs (a birch). Traditional St. Nikolaus gifts include apples, oranges, Christmas cookies, specially wrapped candy, and small toys. There is also an alternative to shoe shining: red “Nikolausstiefel” (St. Nikolaus` boots) made out of plastic, which are sold in all major German grocery stores. They are available empty, or filled with candy. St. Nikolaus is said to resemble Santa Claus, hence the red and fur-trimmed boots (usually cotton). It is customary for co-workers to put candy on each other`s desks early in the morning of December 6th. Some companies choose this date to hold their annual Christmas party. St. Nikolaus, however, does not make a personal appearance on this day, and kids have to wait until Christmas Eve to see `a real Santa.`

While my children have long outgrown Nikolaus and their mother’s ineptitude with calendar-keeping, they still love the tradition. When they asked, I used to tell them that Nikolaus was a doppelgänger  ( say-what-mama?) to Santa, who made this pre-Christmas check up to see if everything was kosher with their grades and behavior, and then he’d  leave them a sign letting them know what he thought. “And, when he’s done–no matter when he gets here–he reports directly to Santa about how good you’ve been.”

Ssssshhhhh. Promise not to tell… I’ve got shoes to fill still. By the time you read this, the girls will have extracted their token chocolates and Lebkuechen from otherwise stinky shoes (what’s with shoes and stockings for the holidays, anyway?), and I will have forgotten to make breakfast or check my calendar or what was it I was supposed to do on today again? Sssshhhh. Don’t tell me.  I love secrets… and traditions!

What traditions will you celebrate this season? What ones have you forgotten? 

13 thoughts on “Waking Up to St. Nikolaus Day…Shhhh…

  1. I just realized a few minutes before I read this, that it is St. Nikolaus today. Unfortunately, Olivia is not with me today, so we’ll have to ski it. Luckily, the Swiss don’t fill shoes, but bake the bread I’m sure you remember. Next year…


  2. Although I’m from a German background, we never did the boot thing, but we had stockings hung up. Maybe that was because it was too cold outside to put the boots there. It’s a lot of fun though, to check out the stockings.


  3. We bake. We bake and bake and bake. I start on the 22nd, making appetizers and cutting up produce for simple “eat as you walk by” snacking, so that I won’t need to properly cook, and then on the evening of the 23rd, we begin baking. I make Christmas dinner, of course, but for days and days after, I don’t cook, because there’s plenty of food prepared. Stuffed breads, cookies, rolls, pies…It’s wonderful! I started when I was single, because my parents went south for the winter, and all of my friends wanted to “pop by” after their family celebrations. I lit the candles, turned on the jazz, and preheated the oven. People are very happy when you hand them a cocktail and offer them sweets.


    • Joey – your baking festivities sound so welcoming! I love a warm oven and jazz in the background… sprinkle some cinnamon in there somewhere… it’s happening. Thanks for the great descrip!


  4. Renee, I love this. I remember reading about him in a Dutch story as a kid and the whole wooden shoe thing (Holland, natch) was so fascinating to me I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I thought it was such a shame that he didn’t know how to find my mom (and therefore me) in the United States. 😉 Love how you used the word Kosher in a Christmas post.


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