There are many important celebrations in Germany, and to children, Nikolaustag on December 6th is one of the most significant! Nikolaustag is based upon the Saint Nicholas of Myra, who died on December 6, 346. This 4th century bishop was fond of giving gifts to people in need, and did so in secret. He was known to slip some coins, fruit and nuts to the less fortunate.
On the evening of December 5th, have your children place a boot, shoe, or stocking on the doorstep. A dirty shoe or stocking will not do. The boot needs to be cleaned, which will indicate the good behavior of the child during the year. If a child puts out two boots, they may appear greedy, so only one boot is typically placed outside. During the night, St. Nikolaus will visit all of the villages of Germany, riding atop his donkey, traditionally leaving gifts in their boots. Children can leave a nice carrot for the donkey if they choose. Today, St Nickolaus typically leaves delicious chocolates, sweets and toys. But beware, for those children who have been naughty, a “Rute” or twig may be left for parents to threaten or beat them with.
On December 6th, the children may have a personal visit from the bishop himself. In our village, St. Nikolaus shows up with a wagon full of bread and chocolates for the children. We meet in the village center until St. Nikolaus shows up, carrying his golden book. In this golden book are the deeds, good and bad, of all the children. We sing songs and he reads from his book, then hands out treats. It’s a lovely tradition that all the children get very excited about.
There is another character with some importance on this day. He goes by a few names, depending on the region you are living in. It could be, “Belsnickle”, “Pelznickel”, “Knecht Ruprecht”, “Krampus”, and more. He is the companion of Saint Nikolaus and he is there to both frighten and threaten children with his monstrous appearance and threatening behavior. In many cases, Krampus has devilish qualities such as sharp horns upon his head, a pointy nose, sharp teeth and carries a stick to beat children with and bag to stuff the especially naughty children in. Not to worry, Krampus doesn’t actually beat the children with sticks anymore, but his presence can absolutely still ward off naughty behavior.