December 4, 2012 > St. Nikolaus
Submitted By Doris Nikolaidis
There is magic in the air in December - childhood memories flood through my consciousness - starting with the opening of the doors on our advent calendar on December 1st to the opening of the last door on December 24, the mystical day when Santa Claus enters our house and deposits gifts.
But before Santa Claus' visit there is the visit of St. Nicholas on December 6. Nicholas was born a Greek during the third century. According to legend, he was raised by his uncle, the bishop of Patara, after the death of his parents, and, following his uncle's example, became bishop of Myra. Many miracles were attributed to him and he had a reputation of secretly giving gifts to young children.
Many countries in Europe celebrate his nameday, December 6, by putting a shoe outside the front door or before a fireplace on the night of December 5. In Germany, where I grew up, we polished our shoes to a mirror-like shine on December 5. St. Nicholas was known to put a piece of charcoal into the shoe if it was not spotless. My father ended up with a piece of charcoal every year until his children took pity on him and polished his shoes for him.
When I was twelve years old, I told my younger brother that there was really no St. Nicholas. Our parents are putting the piece of chocolate into our shoes at night, I told him. I was going to prove it to him tonight. I would stay awake until I heard my parents go to bed and then sneak into the kitchen where our shoes were lined up before the fireplace. If there was chocolate in the shoe, it was proof that our parents had put it into the shoe before going to bed. My brother was worried that St. Nicholas would punish me for doubting him if he really did exist but I was determined to be the grown-up.
When everything was quiet downstairs I woke up my brother who had fallen asleep, put on my socks and carefully snuck down the stairs into the kitchen.
I was sure my parents had retired - I had heard them say good night to each other - but my father had gone to the bathroom, an outhouse in the shed next to our kitchen. He heard me come down the stairs, opened the kitchen door a little and grunted, "Now where did the kids put their shoes."
I froze. There was a St. Nicholas after all! I raced back up the stairs, jumped into my little brother's bed and pulled the covers over us. "St. Nicholas is downstairs in the kitchen right now," I gasped. Terrified, we listened for footsteps coming up the stairs.
The next morning I refused to get up; I was convinced that there was a piece of charcoal in my shoe as punishment for doubting the existence of St. Nicholas and the whole family would find out about my transgression. I could hear my brother's jubilant shouts when they located the piece of chocolate in their shoes. My mother called for me to come down and join the family for breakfast. "I am not feeling well," I yelled. "She is really very sick," my little brother volunteered. My mother smiled and said to him, "Go take what is in her shoe up to her; maybe it will make her feel better."
My brother gingerly peered into my shoe. There was a piece of chocolate wrapped in a piece of white paper. Breathing a sigh of relieve, he brought it up to me. I removed the piece of paper from the chocolate; it was a note from St. Nicholas. He had written, "Don't ever doubt me again!"
I never did. My husband and I still put our shoe in front of the fireplace every December 5. There is always a piece of marzipan - my husband's favorite candy - in his shoe and a bar of dark chocolate - my favorite candy - in my shoe.