The fun of holidays is the traditions and learning of their meanings. In December, in particular, there are many holidays and old-world cultures that tend to collide and enrich our lives with myths, folklore, and meaningful events alike. Nikolaustag is one of these beautiful traditions that is recognized in Germany.
What is Nikoaustag
Nikoaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, is celebrated on December 6th. The day celebrates a 4th-century Greek bishop, Nicholas. Nicholas was a bishop in Myra (current day Republic of Türkiye) who came from a wealthy family. He would share his fortune by placing coins in children's shoes. Nicholas passed away on December 6, 343 AD, and was named a Saint for children and seafarers. To honor Nicholas's acts of charity, Nikoaustag was established on the 6th of December.
Tradition of Nikoaustag
On December 5th, kids polish their shoes and set them either
by the fireplace or outside. A polished shoe is to show how good the child was through the year. Dirty shoes are not acceptable. It is best to only put out 1 shoe to show a child is not too greedy. If the child was good all year, they would receive coins, oranges/clementines, chocolates, or nuts. Then, while at school, St. Nicholas would show up to ask if the children had been good that year. St. Nicholas would bring his gold book to verify if the kids were well-behaved or not. If a child was not, there would be another fate in store other than gifts and sweets.
Where folklore met fiction
On the 6th, German children would eagerly rush to their shoes to see what would await them. Those who were not the most behaved feared they would see a switch. When they went to school instead of talking with St. Nicholas they would have a meeting with Knecht Ruprecht (also known as Krampus). Knecht Ruprecht would be dressed in black fur with a scary mask. He carried a bag, staff, and chains that were used to whip the naughty kids and take them away in his sack.
What about Christmastime
While this may sound like Germans celebrate Christmas
early, this is not true. The good kids were extra spoiled by a visit from St. Nicholas. When Christmas comes around on the 25th, German kids still open gifts and get a visit from Weihnachtsmann, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus.