Today is December 6th, known in some European countries as St. Nicholas day. Growing up in Germany and Belgium, we always put our shoes outside the door in anticipation of what St. Nicholas (or Sint Niklaas) would leave us. I remember in Germany; chocolate coins and eggs tied to a small branch, standing in my siblings’ and my sneakers at 6:30 on those cold, winter mornings. In Belgium, since we were getting older and our feet were bigger, St. Niklaas would shove a Toblerone or a Cote d’ Or chocolate bar down our shoes.
All these years later, across an ocean, St. Nicholas has found our house in Northern Virginia. We have modified the legend of St. Nicholas (some would say bastardized it, but I refuse to use such language when referring to Christmas legends). For us, St. Nicholas is a revered old man, with the same magic as Santa. He works alongside, but independently of Santa, leaving treats for those who are good and switches and rocks (Max doesn’t really understand coal yet) for those who are naughty. What he leaves you can be seen as something of a bellwether for how you will fare on December 24th, and gives you a little time to be extra special good if things don’t look too promising. For a hilarious, twisted, yet still fairly accurate telling of St. Nicholas traditions, check out this story, Six to Eight Black Men, by David Sedaris.
Max woke up this morning, and said, “Let’s see if St. Nick came!” As a parent, that’s the payoff. We went downstairs and checked their sneakers. St. Nicholas left Max and Sam both sweets and sticks. At first Max only saw the sticks. I didn’t think it was possible for his face to get that long. Sam found his little gold-wrapped chocolate bear, took it out, and threw it on the floor. I think that the message the sticks were supposed to send may have gotten lost once the chocolate was discovered.