Gauss-Advent Calendar: The St. Nicholas Custom
by Lena Heinecke
Only two days left until December 06, only two days left until St. Nicholas Day, that means it’s time to clean your shoes! In Germany, it is a tradition that people clean their shoes or boots in the evening before St. Nicholas Day and put them outside the door. Then the Holy Nicholas comes by during the night and fills the shoes with sweets and/or small gifts. This custom, which is particularly popular with children, is also gladly cultivated by adults, whereby here, for example, roommates or partners put something into each other’s boots.
The traditional fillings for boots are mandarins, nuts, apples and gingerbread, but nowadays other little things are also often hidden. In our family, when my sisters and I were younger, there was always chocolate and sometimes vouchers hidden in our shoes, for example for eating Poffertjes at the Christmas market. Of course, there are no upper limits, i.e. you can give away expensive things like jewelry, electronics or cosmetics, but usually it’s just small gifts. After all, it should still fit into a shoe!
At this point we have a few suggestions what you can hide well in the boots of others: If your roommate has a sweet tooth, Christmas sweets are a good start. This could be a little chocolate Santa Claus, candy canes, dominoes or cookies. Of course you can also bake them yourself beforehand and then give them away. Alternatively, you can give away baking cookies together as a nice advent activity. You can do this by placing one or two cookie tins in the shoes together with a handwritten voucher for the big baking. If you are sad that the Christmas market is not taking place as usual this year, you can also hide a Christmas drink like fruit punch, mulled wine or fruit tea in the shoe to offer a little consolation.
If you are willing to spend a few extra euros, you can also buy other small things like clothes, for example warm socks, a cap, a scarf or gloves against the winter cold. How about candles for that cozy winter feeling or games to spend the time until Christmas together?
Be careful, if you don’t clean your shoes properly, you won’t get any presents! In this case, old potatoes or coals used to be put into the children’s shoes.
In Austria, on the other hand, it becomes even more frightening for naughty children. Santa Claus comes along with the Krampus, who looks creepy with his devil horns, a rod and clanking chains. According to the story, he packs bad children into his sack and drags them away.
In most other countries, St. Nicholas Day is more friendly. Like in Germany, in Romania the shoes are put in front of the door and the next morning they are filled. Kids that were not behaving might have an apple tree rod in their shoe. It should bloom until Christmas, because only then does St. Nicholas forgive the child. In Luxembourg, the Nicholas is called “Kleeschen” and not only brings presents but also gets some himself. Traditionally, cookies are provided for him and hay for his donkey. The children even have no school on this day.
By the way: The day after tomorrow, you will find out in our Gauss Advent calendar where the St. Nicholas custom comes from.