When I was a kid, I put my boots outside the door before I went to bed on December 5. Sometimes I also put an empty plate on my desk. When I woke up the next morning, the plate and boots were filled with tangerines, peanuts and chocolate. I knew Saint Nicholas (in German: Nikolaus) had visited.
Does this sound familiar to Americans and Canadians? But the date is wrong, isn’t it? Why would there be a Saint Nicholas bringing gifts the night before December 6 when Santa Claus shows up the night before December 25 doing the same thing? Are they the same person?
Let’s take a look at the history. I found an article on Wikipedia that sums it up pretty well:
Saint Nicholas . . . was a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). . . . He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day―St Nicholas Day [December 6] . . . and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”.
There is much more on how Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus and why the gift-giving was moved from December 6 to December 25, if you are interested. Wikipedia has a lot of information on Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus.
You are probably wondering which tradition I chose when I moved to Canada. I didn’t. I kept the Austrian tradition and adopted the Canadian. This morning I woke up and saw that Saint Nicholas had left a bag with tangerines, nuts and chocolate for me. At least that’s what my husband told me. I am sure Santa Claus will fill my stocking with similar things the night before December 25.
Now, there is a figure who sometimes accompanies Saint Nicholas, I haven’t talked about yet, Krampus. While Saint Nicholas concerns himself only with the good children, Krampus is responsible for the bad. Last year two-time Oscar winning (and Austrian) actor Christoph Waltz tried to explain Krampus at The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. He also talked about Krampus Runs, but see for yourself:
I can imagine that one question might remain unanswered for my North American readers: If Saint Nicholas / Santa Claus brings gifts on December 6, who is bringing the gifts at Christmas? As Christoph Waltz said in the interview with Jimmy Fallon, “Christmas is a different thing.” There is someone bringing gifts at Christmas in Austria, but it’s not Santa Claus. If you want to find out more about it, check out “My first Canadian Christmas” story which I will post just before Christmas Eve.