When it comes to Christmas, there is nothing quite like traditions. In England, the lead up to the big day consists of celebration and parties. For children, it is the long, anticipated wait for Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, to arrive down the chimney and leave presents to open on Christmas day.
Father Christmas is a legendary figure, a name that derives from the myth of St. Nicholas. Some traditions however, differ to this. For many European countries, there is a celebration of Saint Nicholas, or St. Nicholas of Myra. A Christian Saint, who, amongst children, is a popular and well-beloved figure because he is known to be the bringer of gifts, or so his reputation would confirm.
In Germany, Saint Nicholas day falls on the 6th day of every December. Whilst most family traditions vary, Germany is renowned for its celebration of Advent and has become a major part of German Christmas culture. Most Germans celebrate the month by opening a gift each day of Advent, some big and some small. St. Nicholas day in Germany can also be celebrated by children placing a shoe, or most commonly a boot, outside their bedrooms overnight for St. Nicholas to fill with sweets and gifts for the morning. If children behaved badly throughout the year, it is said that St. Nicholas would instead leave a stick in their boot. Frohe Weihnachten!
Similarly, in Poland, St Nicholas Day is celebrated on the 6th December. It is this night that Saint Nicholas, or Sw. Mikolaj in Polish, visits the children during the night and leaves gifts for them to open in the morning. For Poles, the day of St. Nicholas marks the beginning of the Christmas festivities and is regarded as the most exciting day for young children as they know they’ll be receiving gifts. Granted - that’s if they have been on their best behaviour all year round. St Nicholas appears in bright vestments as he is a bishop, following on from the Saint figure he represents. St. Nicholas descends from heaven with an angel assisting him to deliver the gifts on foot. An exciting and ethereal belief for children in Poland.
In France, St. Nicholas Day originates from Alsace-Lorraine. It is believed that St. Nicholas is a patron, said to deliver gifts to children on the 6th December. It is also celebrated with a donkey who carries a basket of treats for young children to receive on St. Nicholas Day. Whilst waiting and anticipating for the arrival of the saint, the French enjoy baking gingerbread, singing songs, creating arts and crafts and sharing stories. An old wives’ tale tells the story of the three children who went missing whilst on a walk one day. Lured into a shop by an evil butcher, the three children were eventually saved by St. Nicholas and safely returned to their families. It is said that St. Nicholas’ reputation as a ‘protector of children’ derived from this tale.