The Original Santa Claus
Children (of all ages) love surprises and love Christmas. One tradition that is fun to celebrate with children young and old is St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas was the forerunner of Santa Claus and, like Santa Claus, secretly delivers gifts to good children as they sleep at night. Instead of Christmas Eve, St. Nicholas delivers his gifts on the night of December 5th which is the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas or St. Nicholas Day which is December 6th. Also, instead of a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, he travels on a horse.
|Matt's St. Nicholas Boots|
My younger sister, brother, and I, grew up celebrating this tradition and I wanted to keep it going even though we don't have children (although I swear sometimes my husband is actually my five-year-old). Matt was surprised with candied almonds, a rooster ornament, alpaca socks, a Glühwein mug, and a handmade wooden spoon...that last one may have been more for me ;P. A few days later we received a package from St. Nicholas that he left for us at my parents' house in North Carolina, we each received Hot Headz, just in time for the harsh winter months in Germany.
How to participate with your children:
On the evening of December 5th, place one of their shoes or slippers outside of their bedroom. You can also leave a carrot or apple in the shoe for St. Nick's horse (and maybe a cookie or two for St. Nick himself). After they are asleep, place a few pieces of candy, a simple little toy or trinket (something small like you get with a McDonald's Happy Meal), a gift certificate to their favorite fast food establishment, or similar little gift. This is not a big gift giving event. Keep it simple with the idea of simply adding a little extra cheer to the holiday season or breaking the daily routine in anticipation of Christmas. You don't want anything too elaborate because, more than likely December 6th will be a school day so you don't want to delay them with elaborate gifts or celebrating (although my Mom always did :).
It was the Dutch who brought the celebration of St. Nicholas Day to America. During the early days of the settlement of North America, the Dutch founded the colony of New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River where New York City stands today. In fact, New York City began as the Dutch city of New Amsterdam.
The Dutch name for St. Nicholas was Sinterklaas which morphed into Santa Claus. While in some countries St. Nicholas brings presents on Christmas Eve, in other countries, including Holland, he brings presents on the eve of his feast day. It was the 1822 poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clark Moore (also known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas"), that established the time of St. Nicholas' annual visit as being Christmas Eve in America. Moore is also responsible for changing St. Nicholas' mode of transportation from a horse to a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. It wasn't too many years after the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that St. Nicholas evolved into the Santa Claus that we all know and love today.