Last weekend the children celebrated the tradition of St Nikolaus Day. Many German children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of December 5th. St. Nikolaus fills the boot with gifts and sweets, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the past year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead. Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes checking his golden book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behaviour basis. This has become more lenient in recent decades.
The story also has a somewhat scary side to it as well, scary for the children, that is. For many children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht), who would threaten to beat, or sometimes actually beat the children for misbehaviour ….or so the legend goes! In Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the dark forest. In other accounts he would throw the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children. These traditions were implemented more rigidly in Catholic countries and regions such as Bavaria and Austria.
However, these days the legend has somewhat softened and St Nikolaus only leaves gifts of sweets or fruit and nuts.
So Emma and Sean both got very busy on Saturday evening cleaning their boots to show St Nikolaus what good children they are. And, of course, they were rewarded. What a good way to start the festive season!