St. Nikolaus Day (or St. Nicholas Day) is a celebration in Germany and Holland that is observed on the 5th or 6th December each year, depending on what part of Europe a person is in.
The Christian festival is celebrated as the feast day of St Nikolas and is reflective of the saint’s popularity for bringing gifts and joy at this season. Many people observe the festival by attending mass or other religious worship.
What's it all about?
As is celebrated at Christmas in much of the Western world, many children eagerly await a gift from St Nikolaus on the eve of the celebration. Tradition declares that St Nikolaus will leave a gift under the pillows of children who have behaved well throughout the year.
Alternatively, if a child has been badly behaved, they can expect to receive a twig or piece of coal. In the Netherlands, Dutch children leave a cog filled with hay for St Nikolaus to give to his horse. In return for the snack, St Nikolaus will replace the carrot with a small gift for the child.
On the day
On the 5th December, the accepted birthday of St Nikolaus, gifts are exchanged between relatives and friends and in both Germany and the Netherlands, tags are attached that include personal and humorous rhymes from the sender to the receiver.
On the evening of the 5th December, as children anticipate the arrival of St Nikolaus, parents or neighbours will knock on the window of living rooms, pretending to be St Nikolaus’ assistant alerting them of his pending arrival.
Some families go to the lengths of hiring costumed actors to play the roles of St Nikolaus and his assistant. They will then hand deliver gifts to children and relay comments about their behaviour and events from throughout the year.
In more Catholic towns, St Nikolaus is dressed as a bishop in red and an actor will often dress up and journey through the streets and centre offering sweets and small gifts. This is an especially lovely sight to enjoy, as tourists are welcomed to enjoy the festivities and atmosphere that is extended to all.
Families celebrate in individual ways throughout both countries, some opt for more personal and private festivities, whereas others embrace the opportunity to socialise with the wider community and share the experiences and celebrations.
Both the Germans and Dutch recognise Santa Claus as a more Americanised character and as such, St Nikolaus is often celebrated more enthusiastically. In Northern Germany, St Nikolaus day is celebrated in a somewhat reserved manner. Children leave an empty boot or shoe on their doorstep overnight and wake to find it filled with sweets to celebrate their good behaviour throughout the year.
This season is an excellent time to visit both Germany and the Netherlands. The period is one of warmth, joy and excitement and lends itself perfectly to a pre Christmas getaway.