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Celebrating St. Nicholas Day: Continuing a Family Tradition

The holiday season is all about traditions. Each family chooses ways of celebrating the holidays that are special to them, whether they have been passed down for generations or started new. As a young family, our holiday traditions are still developing and evolving. We have established some of our own, such as going to Drummers to pick out the perfect Frasier Fir as our Christmas tree and visiting the Kiwanis Holiday Lights. An even more meaningful tradition we’re continuing comes from my husband’s side of the family: celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th.

When my husband was a child, his family celebrated St. Nicholas Day, which is commonly celebrated in Europe. For those not familiar with St. Nicholas Day (and I wasn’t until I met my husband) generally on the eve of December 6th, children put their shoes by the door and the next morning discover small gifts in them that have been left by St. Nicholas. The custom varies widely around the world and the modern day Santa Claus originated from St. Nicholas.

Early Beginnings

Both of my husband’s maternal grandparents have German ancestry and my mother-in-law remembers St. Nicholas coming to her house as a child.  She and her siblings would put out their shoes and would usually get an orange, some peanuts in the shell, and other little candies. When she later became a German teacher, she had her students make shoes out of paper and St. Nicholas visited her classroom each year.  When my husband and his siblings were growing up, my mother-in-law included the St. Nicholas Day tradition as a way to connect with their German heritage (because raising three small children to be bilingual just wasn’t going to work out).

An Adaptation

As a way to tie St. Nicholas to Santa Claus, my husband’s family adapted their own version of the tradition by writing their letters to Santa Claus and leaving them in their shoes on St. Nicholas Day Eve. My husband remembers poring over the thick catalogs from Sears and JCPenney, searching for the perfect gifts to ask Santa for. St. Nicholas picked up their letters to deliver them to Santa Claus and also would leave a couple little toys and some candy. Even after graduating high school, my husband continued to receive treats from St. Nicholas in the mail. It was during his college years that St. Nicholas began sending the highly coveted spritz cookies, which were (and still are!) my husband’s favorite Christmas treat.

Continuing the Tradition

Thanks to their Oma (“Grandma” in German), our children now get a visit from St. Nicholas each year. On St. Nicholas Day, our kids wake up to find a couple very small toys and some candy in their shoes. There are even a few delicious spritz cookies for mom and dad to enjoy too! This year, our daughter is old enough to write a letter to Santa (with some help) that we will leave in her shoe for St. Nicholas to deliver. Celebrating St. Nicholas Day is meaningful to our family as it not only connects us with our German heritage but also continues a special tradition that can be enjoyed together by multiple generations.

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? What are some holiday traditions you have that help you connect with your heritage or your parents and grandparents?

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