Saint Nicholas Day
One of the interesting parts of being in another country is their holidays and festivals. This is either a planned event like going to Oktoberfest or a random happenstance when you are traveling. When you live somewhere that has different holidays than you are used to, then you get to experience them differently. Today is December 6 and Saint Nicholas Day in Germany.
December 6 is not an governmental holiday where shops are closed and you get a day off, but every child knows it here. This is the celebration of the birthday of Saint Nicholas and a day of presents for children, usually sweets or other food. This is the same figure that got warped into Santa Claus in the US. The tradition that I remember closest from my childhood was the hanging of stockings. Here on the night of the 5th children put out their shoes for sweets.
Ok, this seems like a fine holiday tradition not too far from traditions that most Americans would recognize. Actually this afternoon in my office there were a large group of kids running around and a colleague dressed up as Saint Nicholas. Almost like the US, even down to admonishing the children to be good. However it goes further in several different ways.
- There are songs associated with the holiday. I heard 26 kids all sing in unison (apparently unprompted) when my friend came in in the suit.
- I overheard in the kitchen the other day that you can apparently buy little plastic shoes that can substitute for actual children shoes if you do not want to get them… ummm.. Dirty? Get the candy germ infested? Dunno, but it sounded strange.
- Saint Nicholas is also often accompanied by a more malicious figure. This is part of the thing that I only half understand, as there seem to be local variations. This seems to be the source of our idea of getting coal (or in some German versions “drowned in the river”) if you are bad. This secondary figure is the coal-bringer in most stories that I have heard.
Like most cultural traditions, it seeps into adulthood as well. When I come into work this morning, chocolate Nicholas figures had appeared at each place. Looking in stores, these can range from the standard looking santa’s to realistic Nicholas’s with a staff and more religious style hat. It certainly is a nice lead into the holiday season when Christmas is three weeks out. Either that or it just hypes up kids on chocolate. Don’t mind me as I jump up and down a bit, I had an 80 gram chocolate Nicholas figure for snack today. Wheee
As a last bit for my Saint Nicholas day story, I was visiting a friend in Bavaria this weekend and she prepared little goodie bags for the holiday. She even put them in our shoes while we were asleep. Ok, I don’t have the memories of excitement from childhood that a German might, but that was really nice. In fact the cookies pictured above are from that package. Thanks Sarah.
Wiki Links Above is what I experienced, but Wiki is kind of neat for some extra history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas#Germany
December 9, 2010 @ 9:07 pm
Now I understand…thanks for explaining. I kind of like the good cop/bad cop ying/yang balance they’ve got goin’ on with Nicholas.
December 10, 2010 @ 9:13 pm
Yeah, the US has merged the two into one big jolly blob with a “bad list”.
December 8, 2010 @ 7:42 pm
Hello, I want to tell you I really enjoy your blogs. I will soone be moving to Germany (23rd) to join my wife and children who have been over since April. She is a German citizen who I have been married to for almost 11 years. She is living in a small village of Beesdau about 40 minutes outside of Berlin, along with my son 7 and daughter 14. She cam over before me to see if she would be able to find work (she is a dental hygentist) and to see if the chidren could adapt to the culture. She found work right away and the kids love it there. So now it is my turn to make the journey. I have vacationed in Germany several times with her and have always loved the beauty, and laid back lifestyle. Living there is another thing. Blogs like yours and a few others I have followed have really helped to prepare me and let me know what to expect once I am there. My two biggest fears is language barriers and finding work. I have two degress a bussiness management, and e-commerence degree, but do not know how much this will help in finding a job when I cannont speak German, any ideas? I would also love to find any expat groups in my area or in Berlin to socialize with would love to know if you have any ideas on locating them. It is refreshing to know there are many others like yourself that have come over in simular situations as mine and have not only made it but love living here. I know that no matter where you live there are going to be pros and cons and that alot of happiness is, what you make of your situation. Anyways thanks again for having a great blog, never stop writing.
December 10, 2010 @ 9:19 pm
I’m so glad that my little set of stories is helpful. Berlin should have plenty of opportunities for work, even without an enormous amount of German, but 40 miles is a haul. Just check the normal stuff online for work. Monster.de, stepstone.de are both good. thelocal.de/jobs will have a listing of the Monster Jobs that explicitly mention english.
Especially if you live in a small village, learning the language will be important. You are lucky to have a wife and kids to help you. Kids especially will pick it up quickly. In the smaller villages, there may be fewer expats unless there is an Army base nearby. Just search online for your area. There are plenty of expat websites.
I wish you the best in coming over.
December 7, 2010 @ 3:23 am
Ok there’s a big difference between getting coal and drowning in the river. Also I’m beginning to worry about your chocolate addiction 🙂
December 7, 2010 @ 7:31 am
If I read the Wiki stuff right, the drowning and more severe punishments are associated with the more Catholic regions. There is nothing wrong with chocolate and I have plenty to share. 🙂
December 6, 2010 @ 8:37 pm
Nikolaus! I used to love that holiday as a kid. The bad dude is called Knecht Ruprecht and around Koeln he brings you twigs and not coal if you’ve been bad 🙂 But everybody I know always got chocolate. And my parents always told me that my boots had to be super clean when I put them out. Otherwise, Nikolaus wouldn’t bring anything…
December 7, 2010 @ 7:29 am
Oh cool, you actually did this as a kid. I hope I did the holiday justice with my explanation.
I always remember thinking that coal would be actually more useful if you were cold in the winter rather than sweets.