Friday, December 5, 2008

st. nicholas day

When I was little, I did not have a concept of Santa Claus in the north American sense. The baby Jesus delivered presents on Christmas eve - not a jolly, fat man in a red suit with a beard. The closest deity to a Santa Claus in my childhood was St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas day is celebrated in many European countries. St. Nicholas was a fourth century bishop from Myra (now Turkey). He was said to be a kindly saint and legend has it that he would travel from home to home on the Eve of St. Nicholas (December 5) and leave gifts for good children in their boots, which they discovered in the morning on December 6. He travelled with another mythical character called "Black Peter". I think Black Peter was meant to be a representation of some kind of a devil. If a child was bad, St. Nicholas would leave lumps of black coal instead of candies and little treats.

As a child, I would put my boots out by the window and eagerly await the goodies that would fill them the next day. My boots would be filled with mandarin oranges (only available at Christmas in the Czech Republic and very expensive in those days), chocolates, a type of ginger bread cookie we called marzipan typically in the shape of St. Nicholas and usually, a tiny lump of black coal as a reminder that we are rarely 'always good'. When my boys were young they would also receive little presents such as a hot wheels car or a tiny Lego set.

I can't help myself, to this day I put my boots by my decorated fireplace to remind myself of the traditional celebration. Now I fill them with special chocolates for the Babe and myself more as a reminder of the tradition and the anticipation I used to have as a child to discover what goodies filled my boots.