St. Nicholas

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Nikolaus candy container with feather tree
Vintage German Candy Container, ca 1930
St Nicholas Center Collection

In Roman Catholic areas of southern Germany, such as Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus still comes as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop's miter and staff. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and children clean and polish their shoes or boots in preparation for the saint's visit. On the evening before St. Nicholas Day, children put letters to the good saint along with carrots or other food for his white horse or donkey on a plate or in their shoes. These are left outside, under the bed, beside a radiator, or on a windowsill in hopes of finding goodies from St. Nicholas the next morning. During the night Sankt Nikolaus goes from house to house carrying a book in which all the children's deeds are written. If they have been good, he fills their plate, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and candies. If not, they may find potatoes, coal, or twigs.

Children practice poems and songs for Sankt Nikolaus and make little presents for him. Friends and neighbors come to share in the fun. Candles on the Advent wreath and the big Christmas pyramid with a nativity scene in the center are lit. Stories are read or songs sung as everyone waits for a knock on the door. When it comes, they all know it is Sankt Nikolaus, who comes in with his big book, golden crozier, and a big heavy sack. One of the children gets to hold the golden staff. Each child (and sometimes adults, too) stand in front of the saint. Nikolaus asks each child, "Have you behaved yourself?" "Do you do your homework?" "Do you keep your room tidy?" "Do you help your parents?" Then he opens his big sack and gives presents and candies and treats for all to share. And they give him the little surprises. Nikolaus leaves quickly as he has many places to visit. He travels with a white horse or a donkey and sometimes Ruprecht, his most common German companion, is with him.

Nicolaus with ships and children in tub
German prayer card, ca 1850
St Nicholas Center Collection
Red and gold hand puppet
German hand puppet
St Nicholas Center Collection
Red and blue smoker
German smoker
St Nicholas Center Collection
Pewter ornament
Germnan pewter
St Nicholas Center Collection

Some areas have local customs. In Stuttgart, for example, kids dress up as Nikolaus and go door-to-door asking for sweets—much like trick-or-treating in the United States.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint in the Mosel who protects the river people from danger. From the time of the Celts and Romans ships have been towed upriver  manpower and later by horses and oxen. Towing was dangerous and St. Nicholas chapels and shrines were built along the Mosel. Nicholas fraternities and festivals developed. They are still observed in Bernkastel, Reinsport and Urzig. 

In some parts of Germany Nikolaus has come to look more like Santa and Father Christmas and comes at Christmas, not St. Nicholas Day. The influence of other countries, television, and large department stores makes it more difficult to find holy Bishop Nicholas. Even when he comes on December 5th, his appearance sometimes shows that Germany's long-standing gift-givers, Sankt Nikolaus and the Christkindl, are being transformed.

St Nikolaus group
Munich: each year 24 volunteer Niklausen (tax consultants, lawyers, school director, orthodontist and more) visit 70 families, social projects and orphanages giving donated gifts
10 Niklausen
Ten Niklausen from St Nikolaus im Warndt, Germany, went to Freyming-Merlebach, France, to learn how to be St Niklaus

St. Nicholas Monuments in Germany 
Statues and images in public places
Letter from St. Nick
A special post office and postmark in St. Nikolaus im Warndt
Rescuing St. Nicholas from Santa Claus in Germany Updated! 

Weihnachtsmannfreie Zone
       Campaign for "Santa Claus Free Zone" to preserve Bishop Nikolaus
St. Nikolaus images in the churches of Landkreis Dachau

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