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How to celebrate Nikolaus as a parent in Germany

Figurine of the bishop Nicholas

December 6 is Saint Nicholas’ day, more commonly known as Nikolaus in Germany. What is Nikolaus? Where does the tradition comes from? What should you organize as a parent in Germany?

The legend behind Nikolaus

Nikolaus was a Greek Christian bishop in Myra (located in what is today Turkey). He died on December 6th in 346 which is the day celebrated in Germany. He was known for small miracles and giving gifts secretly. He’s now the patron of little children (as well as sailors, merchants and students).

Figurine of Santa Claus

Nikolaus vs Santa Claus

The American Santa Claus is believed to be based on the character of Nikolaus (the resemblance in uncanny!) but in Germany these are two different characters. In Germany, Santa is called “der Weihnachtsmann” (literally translated “the Christmas man”).

It’s all about the shoes at Nikolaus

In most of Germany, children will clean up their shoes on the eve of Nikolaus (so on December 5th) to show they have been “good” and worthy of treats. A lot of children choose to clean their mud boots to get more sweets! Then the shoes are left outside the front door. In most of Germany, it’s safe enough to leave your shoes outside your door without them disappearing.

What should I give my kids at Nikolaus?

Typically children are given some chocolate, mandarins, nuts and / or a small gift (think a Playmobil character or tiny Lego package). Given the current over-consumption and every parent’s nightmare of having too much toys to clean up, it’s probably safe to say the lesser the better. For the children it’s mostly about the surprise of having something snuk into their boots.

Nikolaus in the Kita

Nikolaus will probably be celebrated in the Kita as well. Most Kitas will prepare a small package with a mandarine and a couple of chocolate pieces that they will leave in the children’s shoes during naptime. All the more reasons not to give your children too much in their boots at home.

Nikolaus’ friends

In some parts of Germany, some celebrations will be organized in the city. Nikolaus will often be accompanied by demon-looking characters: Knecht Ruprecht in northern Germany or Krampus in Southern Germany. These beast-like creatures ask the children if they have been good, if not, they will threaten to shake a bag of ashes at them or beat them with a stick.

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