If you want to celebrate your German heritage in a special way, today is the day. On December 6, “Nikolaus” brings small presents to children who leave their shoes in front of their door. It’s not a national public holiday but a religious observance in Germany and a few other European countries.
Cheaters? Why Germans Celebrate Christmas Twice
I was born and raised in France. We celebrated Christmas and opened our presents on the 25th. Period. Then, I moved as a young adult to Germany and stayed there for over 20 years. Jasmine, my oldest child, was born there on December 25, and I have always considered her as my best Christmas present ever. However, Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24th (not 25th like in the US or France) and commemorate St. Nikolaus or Santa Claus on December 6th.
While living in Germany, I learned the hard way to observe December 6. Jasmine was maybe 3 or 4 years old when she woke up on December 6 and cried so hard because “Nikolaus” had forgotten her. Of course, it wasn’t Nikolaus who had forgotten her but mom, who had never observed this special day and underestimated the new role of the daycare in her daughter’s life!
On an older post, Alan Headbloom, head of Headbloom Cross-Cultural Communication, commented that “no matter how international-intercultural we perceive ourselves, our first-culture values and preferences come to the fore when challenged with new behaviors.” How true! On that St. Nikolaus day years ago, I ended up rushing to the store for a present, and we celebrated when Jasmine came back from school.
That said, if you want to celebrate your German heritage in a unique way, let your children place their shoes in front of the fireplace or outside their bedroom doors on December 5th. During the night, fill the shoes with mandarins, chocolate, or candy as well as a small present.
Recognizing the differences between Santa, St. Nicholas, and Father Christmas
In short, St. Nikolaus (or Nicholas, which is the most common spelling) was a real figure who lived a long time ago. As the bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas lived in Greece during the fourth century and became popular because of his reputation as a bringer of gifts. In comparison, the American Santa Claus, the British Father Christmas, and the French Père Noel are legendary figures, certainly derived from the myths surrounding St. Nicholas.
In cultures where St. Nicholas is prominent, December 6th—not Christmas—is the day where children get their presents. But, even in Germany where “The Nikolaus” is a huge tradition, young and old also share presents on Christmas Day. And, in some countries including Germany, the present-giver is not Santa but a golden-haired, chubby child with wings called the “Christkind” (German for “Christ-child”). Kris Kringle is a corruption of Christkindl!
I’m so glad that France shares the tradition of Santa with the US—a jolly man in red with a white beard. I haven’t known anything else since my childhood. At least here in the US, I can rely on the same symbolism as in my birth country!
A holiday present for you!
Since 2014, I have been working hard to make this blog a place for sharing insights into my multicultural expertise. Frequently, I’ve mentioned books I have found to be entertaining or informative. Today, and just in time for Christmas, I’ve put all my recommendations together in one place!
If you are interested by Germany and German cultural facts, click on the picture below:
If you are more into French traditions, click on the next picture:
If you are exploring aspects of American culture and lifestyle, click on this picture:
I wish you all a happy St. Nicholas Day. Please let me know if you celebrate St. Nicholas, or if you have, somewhere in your house, an Advent calendar and an Advent crown with candles!