It's a lovely tradition that makes waiting for Christmas Eve a little easier for the kids, because it's another little holiday to look forward to before the BIG one! I know I loved it, and these days my niece and nephews enjoy it, too.
|photo via: Augenblickchen_pixelio.de|
Let me start off saying: Nikolaus is NOT Santa Claus. Nikolaus is a Saint, and Santa Claus is a commercialized leftover of when the dutch originally came to America. They established the colony of New Amsterdam and brought the legend and traditions of Sinterklaas with them.
So what's Nikolausabend/Nicholas Eve?In Germany, kids might be cleaning their shoes right now. Why? Because it's "Nikolausabend" - Nicholas Eve.
On December 5th, before going to bed, kids put their shoes in front of the door, and when they wake up the next morning, Nikolaus (hopefully) filled them with candy, fruit, and little gifts - OR, if you weren't nice but more on the naughty side during the year, Nikolaus' buddy, Knecht Ruprecht (Krampus) will leave you a whip.
The tradition goes way back in time:
In late medieval England, on Saint Nicholas' Day parishes held Yuletide "boy bishop" celebrations. As part of this celebration, youths performed the functions of priests and bishops, and exercised rule over their elders. Today, Saint Nicholas is still celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European and Central European countries. According to one source, in medieval times nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. According to another source, on 6 December every sailor or ex-sailor of the Low Countries (which at that time was virtually all of the male population) would descend to the harbour towns to participate in a church celebration for their patron saint. On the way back they would stop at one of the various Nicholas fairs to buy some hard-to-come-by goods, gifts for their loved ones and invariably some little presents for their children. While the real gifts would only be presented at Christmas, the little presents for the children were given right away, courtesy of Saint Nicholas. This and his miracle of him resurrecting the three butchered children made Saint Nicholas a patron saint of children and later students as well.Some parents even invite Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht to the house to talk to the kids. Nikolaus brings a big golden book, and let's you know that he saw when you were nice (helping your parents, cleaning your room...) or naughty (talking back, missing homework, lying...)
Oh and you can meet them on pretty much every Christmas Market around. Which is another WONDERFUL tradition I'll tell you more about within the next few days.