USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘saint nicholas day’
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint Nicholas Day

Main Piece

“Saint Nicholas is like Santa Claus, but in Germany he’s still Santa. His day is December 6thand umm, the night before, you leave your boots out for Saint Nicholas. I don’t remember what the story was, but I remember the traditions that we would do.

So, you leave your biggest pair of boots out, and like, you know – however big your boot is how much you’re going to get. So, you want to leave really big boots out. And he leaves oranges, is like the big thing he leaves. And candies and chocolates and small toys in your boots. So, you leave them out the night before and you get your boots. But I remember oranges being the big thing.”

 

Context

The informant told me this story while we were exchanging fun things we used to do when we were little. We got on the topic of Christmas and told each other traditions we participated in when we were younger. After some research, the oranges are supposed to represent the gold balls that St. Nicholas would throw at children. St. Nicholas day is December 5th and children put out their shoes/boots that night so they can collect them the morning of December 6th.

 

Background Information

The informant was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. She comes from a family where both of her parents are lawyers in the military (jags). She has lived in Germany, Kansas, Virginia, and goes back to Oregon every summer to her family’s main home. While living in Germany, she spent Christmas there and her family participated in the Christmas tradition there.

I have heard of Christmas traditions such as “Elf on the Shelf” and leaving out your stockings to be filled with gifts and candies on Christmas Eve. My Christmas traditions never included these, but we would bake and leave cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I have never heard of leaving out boots so early before Christmas, and wonder why Santa giving oranges was such a big deal.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

St. Nick’s Day

Informant is a theatre student at USC who was raised in Wisconsin and comes from 65% German heritage. 

St Nick’s Day is kind of a tradition that it isn’t anywhere else. Just because we’re so so German in roots. Everyone does it a little differently, but I know a few people who do it just like we do.

What is St. Nick’s Day?

It’s initially a German tradition. St. Nicholas, or Santa, whatever would – ‘cause Christmas is actually the birth of Christ. So St Nick would actually come around the 6th of December. And he would leave presents in the kids’ stockings. That’s kinda how all that really started. But how we do it, my family, is you leave your stocking – you leave your note for Christmas in your stocking, and Santa – or St. Nick – will come by and he’ll take the note out of your stocking and he’ll leave presents in your stockings. On the 6th of December. And then he has your list, for the rest of Christmas. Most other people around the US will mail their notes to Santa, which – I did not know that was a thing for the longest time. I was so shocked when I found out that people actually mailed their lists to Santa. I was just like “How does he actually sift through all of that? How does he know where it’s all coming from? At least with us he picked it up straight from the house and he knew where it was.” Childhood logic. And then I had a German teacher who would also celebrate it with us, and we would leave our little dance shoes on our desks at school, and she would put a clementine, which is kind of like a tradition – like a fruit, fruit in stockings is a tradition. And then she’d leave a couple little chocolates or something. Cute, fun little things. That one I know is initially a German tradition – ‘cause they also have Krampus, who’s hilarious. But yeah.

With St. Nick’s Day, it’s not just your family – it’s people in the area.

Its not just us. I’m not sure if it’s the whole area, but anyone with enough German roots knows what it is. Or at least has an idea about it. They may not actually practice it, but they know it.

[The people who learned about it through school were] anybody who wasn’t German enough. There were a few people who were like “What is happening?” But for the most part they all accepted it and moved on or already knew about it. I know there were at least two other kids who were super German, like one whose father was actually in Germany and the other whose father had immigrated from Germany and they definitely knew what it was.

It’s not just our family that does it. Everybody practices it a little bit differently.

What are some other versions?

Some people he just puts things in their stockings and moves on, I think my mom came up with the list part. I think that was all her. Everything else – like the leaving the little bit of toys in the stocking, that is the German tradition. Because the story of St. Nick, is like – he basically threw money in this guy’s window so his daughters would get married. That was essentially the story of St. Nick. And then somehow he became a saint. And now he goes around giving gifts to kids on the 6th of December. And apparently Christmas. I don’t know how that one came around.
Informant described this pleasantly and excitedly. It is a holiday and tradition I was completely unaware of. I had heard of St. Nick, but didn’t know that he had a day to himself many days before Christmas.
general

Saint Nicholas Day

“Saint Nicholas Day which is before Christmas, I believe is the 13th of December, actually I can check that for you” (goes off to check), “December 6th sorry. And you lay your shoes outside and Saint Nicholas stuffs them with treats overnight.” “it was always a fun holiday to celebrate and it made me feel a lot more connected to my ancestral roots because it was something that my family did differently from other families, and it served as a reminder of my heritage…let me see, it also gave me a sense of pride in whom I was and who my family was, it made me feel like I was part of something more than just my family and just, just white as a race.”
“So like Christmas?” I asked
“Kind of its sort of like a prelude to Christmas, it was a delightful holiday it made my childhood fun, so the story of saint Nicholas is that there were three girls who needed money for various reasons and they came from a poor family, saint Nicholas heard of their plight and while they were drying their stockings one evening, he snuck over and filled their stockings with the money that they needed. And that is why we have Saint Nicholas Day to commemorate that act of kindness.”

I believe that this is a way that people kind of have a variation of Christmas in order to be able to adapt it to their own heritage and it would it some ways make them more united.  The way that different cultures manage to make variations of holidays in order to match them to their culture is interesting to hear about because it keeps their uniqueness there.  They are able to integrate their traditions and incorporate them into this type of folklore and that is a certain characteristic that many people manage to incorporate into their lives.

[geolocation]