Today is St. Nicholas Day so I thought I would share some of the traditions celebrated on the day around the world.
In Austria, parts of Germany, and Switzerland, der Heilige Nikolaus (or Pelznickel) brings his gifts for children on Nikolaustag, Dec. 6, not Dec. 25. Nowadays, St. Nicholas Day (der Nikolaustag) on Dec. 6 is a preliminary round for Christmas.
Nikolaustag – 6. Dezember
On the night of December 5 (in some places, the evening of Dec. 6), in small communities in Austria and the Catholic regions of Germany, a man dressed as der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas, who resembles a bishop and carries a staff) goes from house to house to bring small gifts to the children. Accompanying him are several ragged looking, devil-like Krampusse, who mildly or nor so mildly scare the children. Although Krampus/Knecht Ruprecht carries eine Rute (a switch), he usually only teases the children with it, while St. Nicholas hands out small gifts. In some regions, there are other names for both Nikolaus and Krampus (Knecht Ruprecht in northern Germany). As early as 1555, St. Nicholas brought gifts on Dec. 6, the only “Christmas” gift-giving time during the Middle Ages, and his companion, Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus, was a more ominous figure. In Alpine Europe Krampus is still a scary, devil-like figure. The Krampuslauf custom found in Austria and Bavaria also happens around December 5 or 6, but it also can take place at various times during November or December, depending on the community.
St. Nicholas´ Day is popular especially with children who are given presents of sweets and various small toys. According to this tradition they clean their shoes, put them on the window sill in the evening and the next morning they find a lovely surprise in them.
The customs associated to St. Nicholas´ Day (6th December) gradually developed into the form known nowadays.
One of the customs of an ancient origin was marching of the three men in masks. The first of them represented a goat led by the second man wrapped in straw. The third man had an effigy of a woman dressed in trousers with boots hanging from them tied on his back. When the man turned round the effigy was kicking the passers-by with its boots.
Another custom became frequent later. St. Nicholas with an angel and a devil went round the houses giving out presents or the “devils reward”.
In many Polish households, the morning of December 6th, in Polish referred to as Mikołajki, is a blissful moment. This is when children find small gifts under their pillows, in their slippers or (nowadays more and more often) in a stocking carefully hang out for that purpose the evening before. The gifts are usually tiny – small toys or sweets are the most popular option, since bigger presents are still yet to be given on Christmas eve, by the very same person – Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus. So why does he visit Polish kids twice a year?
In the past it was on the Saint Nicholas feast when the little ones received gifts, and Poles generally did not hand out presents on Christmas Eve. With time, when the Western customs of giving major gifts around Christmas started to reach Poland, it became natural that Mikołajki is just a prelude to bigger celebrations starting on December 24th. In some parts of Poland it is easier to distinguish these two gift-giving occasions, as Saint Nicholas is so tired after his special day, that he is replaced by Angel or Snowflake around Christmas Day. Nonetheless, in general most Polish children get to meet him twice a year.
Source: Careers in Poland
Saint Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas, and there are a series of yearly parades across major towns and cities.
On the night of December 5th to the 6th, Saint Nicolas goes to houses to bring candy to good children (dried fruits, mandarin oranges, cakes, candies, chocolates and especially a large gingerbread cookie representing the Holy Bishop). In some households inspired by this tradition, he even replaces Santa Claus and brings the Christmas gifts.
He wears a long white beard, a miter and a crosier and a long coat, often purple (sometimes blue or red). He is accompanied by Father Flog: he is the opposite from Saint Nick. He is scary looking and distributes flogs to flog naughty children.
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