Monday, December 1, 2014

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag!

Every year, Hobo Mama posts about her family's St Nicholas Day celebations after the fact. I kept suggesting it would be better if she could remind us all beforehand so we could join in! Last year she did it, just for me!! We didn't get much notice, but we got a little. This year, I'm republishing her post (with permission) as a guest post and with more notice!

So: Let this be your reminder! Put your boots out December 5th and Saint Nicholas might just stop by to tuck some shiny little goodies inside!

(Unless you've been naughty, of course. Then all bets are off.)

Since we speak some German at home, we like to learn about the culture as well. That's why we celebrate Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, each year.

Because the feast day of Saint Nicholas is December 6, empty boots (Nikolausstiefel) generally go outside the door the night of December 5, the eve of Nikolaustag (Nikolausabend).

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

Nikolaus is sometimes accompanied by a servant named Knecht Ruprecht, who hauls the bag and does some of the work of sussing out whether children deserve gifts or chastising. In some regions, children are literally quizzed or asked to perform some religious feat. Since we skip the whole naughty-or-nice bit with Santa, too, we just assume boots are going to be filled.

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

And they always are!

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

When I lived in Berlin in junior high, I always spent the night before Nikolaustag with a German friend and her family. Her mom did Nikolaustag up right! Just as we do here, they lived in a unit in a larger building so our boots (or shoes) just went in the hallway instead of outside — but Nikolaus always found us, anyway.

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

Usual gifts are fruit, cookies, nuts, candies, and little trinkets — much like a stocking. Kids are theoretically supposed to shine their boots first, but fire boots don't shine very well. You can also leave a carrot for Nikolaus' horse, but how would a horse get up our stairs?

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

When we can't locate boots, we go with shoes. Nikolaus is cool with that.

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

I love looking back at Alrik's baldie-mullet phase. I bet even at 2 years old, he will be thrilled to receive toothbrushes, an orange, and string cheese. Easy-peasy.

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama
Photo by Richard Huber

Here's what a traditional Nikolaus looks like — a bishop, you see, same as the original Nikolaos. He's tall and thin with a white beard. This fourth-century Greek saint is the basis for various St. Nicholas celebrations around the world as well as the branching out into Good Ol' St. Nick:

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." {Wikipedia}

I think St. Nicholas Day is a nice time to remind kids to be secret Santas themselves — looking for little ways they can give at this season and the rest of the year, too. Maybe they could leave a little gift for a sibling or do someone else's chore without being asked. You could choose a giving tree or other charity in your town to brighten up someone's Christmas. You could prettily bag some clementines for friends to leave at their door, ring the bell, and run. You could choose a far-off loved one to receive a surprise care package. I was thinking a nice Nikolaus twist for us would be to make and leave goodies and an explanatory note at our neighbors' doors — even if they forgot to put their boots out!

For some extra fun, you could incorporate some other activities into your celebration:

Put your boots out: It's Nikolaustag! == Hobo Mama

Nikolaustag is fun and cultural. Give it a try with your kids this year!

Lauren blogs at Hobo Mama about naturalHobo Mama and attachment parenting and is the co-founder of Natural Parents Network. She lives and writes near the beach with her husband, Sam, and their sons: seven-year-old Mikko, three-year-old Alrik, and newborn Karsten. Lauren happily shares her knowledge of German customs and language with all three.

This post originally appeared on Hobo Mama.
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