Fill Your Shoes and Stockings: Traditions of Saint Nicholas
Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas or St. Nicholas has become a legendary figure throughout the world. Whether he is portly with a red fur-trimmed suit or a saint with a miter and robes, we know that he is someone who brings gifts and fills our shoes or stockings. He may have a sleigh pulled by reindeer or a bevy of hardworking elves. Or he may be a humble follower of Christ. Perhaps he is all that and more.
Years ago, I had a friend from Germany who taught me about the tradition of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. On the eve of December 5th, all the children in Germany put a shoe outside for St. Nicholas to fill with goodies and toys, much like the tradition of the stocking on Christmas Eve. It is a chance to see if all of the children are behaving as they ought to in preparation for Christmas to come, and the proverbial naughty and nice list is made.
Nicholas was a nobleman who lived in modern day Turkey around 280 A.D. He was a committed follower of Christ and did as much as he could to love and serve other people. His status as a nobleman came with significant wealth. Nicholas used his wealth to buy "gifts" for children and those in need. He had no desire to be recognized for his good deeds, so he would often leave the gifts anonymously in the dead of night. He would fill children's shoes with sweets and coins if they left them out on the stoop.
This tradition is also linked to the same set of legends that inspired the hanging of stockings above the fire on Christmas Eve. Once there was a merchant with three daughters, who suddenly lost his fortune, and his daughters were starving and unable to find work. After a long day of walking around town looking for work and being propositioned by the wrong sort, they came home discouraged. The washed out the stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. Saint Nicholas came in the night and filled each of their stockings with a gold coin to prevent them from prostituting themselves for survival.
In northern Europe, St. Nicholas is preceded by Krampus on December 5th, a beast-like creature, sent to punish any children who are misbehaving. Krampus delivers coal to naughty children or will sometimes carry especially bad children off in the basket he wears on his back. Krampus legends originated before the Christian era, but became a part of the folklore of Christmas in the 17th century.
Old Saint Nick always filled stockings on Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house. It is one of the most memorable parts of my childhood Christmas. I remember more about what was in my stocking than most of of the gifts that I was given. I learned that there is truly an art to a good stocking. We have created a collection of sweet tiny gifts to stuff shoes (or stockings!) for St. Nicholas Day or Christmas Eve. Here are a few of our favorites for children and adults.
For children, the silly little things are the most fun. One of the favorites in our family are these surprise ball oranges or the smaller clementines. Growing up we always had either a real orange or a chocolate orange, but a few years ago we discovered these "surprise balls" that take a solid 10-15 minutes to unwrap the layers of tissue paper. Hidden among the layers are simple little treasures that kids love. It is the kind of things you would find in the quarter vending machine capsules: hopping frogs, fortunes, beads, and temporary tattoos. The oranges have twelve prizes in them, while the smaller clementine has six prizes.
We also have a selection of matchbox sized gifts like these puzzles and blocks. Or perhaps a slingshot with some wool ammo--my nieces and nephews like to have a Christmas morning "snowball" fight with these soft wool balls and their slingshots. Some tin toys that hop or walk around are also pretty fun.
For older children we have these more interactive gifts. This pom pom maker is also a favorite for my "tween" nieces and nephews. Miniature flower presses are also a great way to give a creative gift. These beeswax candle kits are also simple and useful. Brass mini models are also a great make it yourself gift.
For mom and dad, we love this selection of Christmas Spice chocolates from Scotland or a bag of Swedish Christmas Toffee. These Macmillan classic books are perfectly sized for a Christmas stocking paired with one of our brass heart bookmarks or book darts.