As a little girl living in Germany, I looked forward to Saint Nicholas Day each year. Before going to bed on the night of December 5th, my brother and I would put our empty boots at the front door. We would wake up on the morning of December 6th to find our shoes overflowing with oranges, gold chocolate coins, candy canes, and other fun treats. Lucky for me, our neighbors didn’t have small children, so that I would open the front and back doors to find red, plastic boots filled with treats. Never did I doubt that St. Nicholas liked me! My brother and I came to see it as a “mini Christmas,” which made both of us more excited for our actual Christmas Day celebration later in the month.
This year, my husband and I plan to “adopt” and start this tradition with our three little girls as they are now old enough to understand the concept of giving to others, and behaving, even if they choose not to most days.
The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate family and the true reason for the season. If you’re looking for another celebration to add to your family’s holiday season, you’re in for a treat as we look into the holiday of St. Nicholas Day a little more.
The History of Saint Nicholas
The story of Santa Claus begins with St. Nicholas. Born in the village of Patara, now considered to be part of Turkey, in the third century, he was raised to be a devout Christian by his wealthy parents. They died when he was young, but he went on to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” as the Bible taught him. St. Nicholas took his entire inheritance and assisted those suffering, the needy, and the sick. He dedicated his life to serving others and was even named Bishop of Myra as a young man. He became known for his generosity, love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. St. Nicholas continues to be revered as a protector and helper of those in need.
In Germany and many other countries across the world, St. Nicholas (also spelled Nikolaus), dressed in a red and white robe, carried his Bishop’s staff and visited homes on the evening of December 5th. He asked the parents if the children in the household had been behaving. If it was reported that the children were behaving well, they would receive gifts for their good behavior. He is believed to have died on December 6th, and the day was chosen as his feast day to celebrate him for his lifetime of giving.
Starting a Saint Nicholas Tradition With Your Family
If you plan to start this tradition with your children this year, I’ve compiled a list of small items to put in their shoes. I plan to buy a few exciting gifts, but mostly practical ones, that will still excite the girls. The most traditional options associated with St. Nicholas are: oranges, symbolizing the gold St. Nicholas gave away, chocolate gold coins, which are symbolic of the famous story of St. Nicholas throwing gold through a poor family’s window, and candy canes, symbolizing the Bishop’s staff.
Other items to include:
- Bouncy balls
- Underwear (especially for those potty training their kiddos)
- Fuzzy fun Christmas socks
- Picture books
- Hot chocolate/marshmallow packets
- Hair bows/barrettes
- Christmas ornaments (these could be the first ornaments the children put on the tree for the season)
I purchased two books, The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving and The Story of Saint Nicholas: A Children’s Adaptation, to help explain the reason we celebrate St. Nicholas.
So, while our girls will get some extra treats this year, my husband and I also plan to teach them the importance of selflessness and giving to others, especially during the holiday season. We want them to remember how important kindness is and has been for thousands of years.