Today is Nikolaus Day in Germany. So, do not be surprised when you notice lots of little boots sitting outside German houses, it is not free kids shoe day.
The tradition is a pretty old one and here is the scoop on the History of Nikolaus day and good ol’ Saint Nikolaus. 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 ensure that Christmas is actually about Jesus’ birth, and not presents from a commercialized Santa.
Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the Greek city of Patara which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea and was located in Myra, Lycia, a Greek province of Asia Minor (part of modern-day Demre Turkey), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, culture and outlook and was part of the Roman province of Asia. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanus and Johanna according to some accounts and Theophanes and Nonna according to others. He was very religious from an early age and according to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader, and later as presbyter (priest). Nicholas also spent a stint at a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle.
Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. His feastday is 6 December.
In Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. 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. Many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5 December or the evening of December 6th and dirty boots are an absolute no go. Children polish their boots to show they’ve been good. They usually place just one boot outside their door so they don’t appear too greedy, though.
St. 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, Nikolaus only leaves a switch (Rute) in the boot, ostensibly for spankings, to show that the child doesn’t deserve a treat. In other families, a man disguised as St. Nicholas will visit the family or the child’s school alone or with his with his sinister-looking alter ego Knecht Ruprecht to question the children about their behavior.
Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus 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), handing out presents on a per-behavior basis.
Bild von Frauke Riether auf Pixabay