Nikolaustag: Stocking Stuffers, a Little Early

St. Nicholaus Stuffs Your Stockings

The first December 6th that I spent in Germany was back in 1996. At this point I had only been living here for a few months and I had no idea what Nikolaustag, or Nicholas Day, was. So, I was quite surprise to find a filled Christmas stocking hanging under my robe when I woke up that morning. I guess I should back up and explain what Nikolaustag is... The legend goes something like this: during the midnight hours, on the eve of December 6th, Saint Nick steals into your home and, if you've been good, fills a pair of clean shoes with all sorts of goodies. If you've been bad, you get coal, and though I've since heard this threatened many times, I don't know anyone who's actually received it.

As far as I can tell St. Nicholaus in Germany is actually Santa Claus. He keeps a list of everyone's good and bad deeds (though his is kept in a large book) and he doles out rewards or punishments accordingly. He even sometimes makes a few appearances before December 6th, usually accompanied by his nasty side-kick, Knecht Ruprecht, or servant Rupert. Rupert is basically the heavy. He carries a large sack and stick with which he threatens to alternately beat bad children or even to stuff them in the sack and drown them in a river. I know, I know, pretty scary stuff. At least, that's how it was when my husband was growing up. Today, its all much more lenient and a lot less dramatic. My husband, rightly so, was terrified of Sankt Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht when he was a little boy.

The Tradition of Nikolaustag in Germany

Bavaria is very Catholic, more so than the rest of Germany, and Catholic holidays are celebrated here with a particular enthusiasm. Nikolaustag is all part of the advent celebrations. Tradition says that you are to clean a pair of boots and place them outside the front door, (I guess in Germany, St. Nick doesn't have time to stop in for milk and cookies), where they will then be filled with what we would call stocking stuffers. These usually include, chocolate, nuts, tangerines and a few small presents.

That first December 6th, I received all that and a beautifully wrapped bottled of perfume. I was both thrilled and mortified. Discovering the unexpected filled stocking brought on a joy that I haven't experienced since I was a little girl at Christmas time, but I also felt immediately guilty for not having prepared anything for my husband. No matter that I had no idea that in Germany stocking stuffers are presented on December 6th.

The contents of my son's stocking: candy, gift cards from iTunes, an adaptor for his iPad and fruit.
The contents of my son's stocking: candy, gift cards from iTunes, an adaptor for his iPad and fruit.

December 6th Today

We now have four stockings that are dutifully prepared every Nikolaustag eve. Well, I prepare three: one for my husband, one for our son, and one for our Jack Russel terrier who get's very upset if she doesn't get to open a few presents herself. My husband always pretends that he forgot mine, but he never does.

In Germany, they don't give joke presents which I think has something to do with frugality. Most of the joke presents that you get in the States elicit a laugh and then are quickly forgotten. Here, the presents are small but useful and appreciated. I think that makes more sense.

In the past, I've made the mistake on buying presents that didn't actually fit into the stockings. I just wrapped them and laid them under the stocking, like presents under a Christmas tree. But I was gently encouraged to keep things small. Now, I know that items like a bottle of Cologne for my husband, or an iPod for our son are just right. My present from my husband alternates every year between a nice face cream or a bottle of perfume.

All in all, its a lovely tradition, and for me, Christmas time just wouldn't be the same without it.

Article by Anne Alexander Sieder

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