The Tooth Fairy or Mouse, The Easter Bunny, Halloween, Fasching, Santa Claus, the number of invisible and time-consuming pastimes we create in the name of childhood just got longer!  If you live in Germany or Europe, that is!  Enter Saint Nicholas or Nikolaus.  Honestly, it’s hard to keep up, so kudos to all those parents putting an elf on the shelf, too!

Who is Saint Nicholas/Nikolaus?

Did you know that in Germany, in addition to Santa Claus, they celebrate another traditional figure associated with Christmas called Saint Nicholas? He’s also known as “Sankt Nikolaus” or simply “Nikolaus.”  In short, they celebrate him on December 6th and call it “Nikolaustag” (Nicholas Day). Saint Nicholas is often depicted as a bishop with a long white beard, wearing a red or gold robe, and carrying a pastoral staff.


What Parents need to know about Nikolaus

If you are new to Germany, the first year may be overwhelming, and if you are anything like me, this celebration may initially go over your head.  And, it is only at school pick up when you are faced with two sobbing children that you realise your mistake.  Ok, let me take two steps back and explain.

Evening of December 5th

On the evening of December 5th, children in Germany traditionally clean and polish their shoes before placing them outside their doors.  This is done in the hope that Nikolaus will visit at night, filling the shoes with small gifts such as chocolates, nuts, and oranges.

The Bad Guy

As they say, Saints and Sinners.  Without a doubt, in every story, there is always a “sinner”.  And in this case, the “sinner” is Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus. He accompanies Nikolaus and is often portrayed as a dark, hairy figure with horns and a bundle of sticks. Legend says that Krampus punishes naughty children, while Nikolaus rewards the well-behaved ones.

Morning of December 6th

If all has gone to plan, candy-filled shoes should greet sleepy-eyed children in the morning.  However, should cleaning and boots have gone awry, Nikolaus can be persuaded to visit the following night 😉.  Because let’s face it, he’s not a Saint for nothing!

In conclusion, the celebration of Nikolaustag blends Christian traditions and folklore, and people widely observe it in Germany and other European countries. It is a festive occasion that adds to the anticipation, a.k.a. workload, and joy of the Christmas season for both children and adults.