Our family is of German heritage, and we have always celebrated St. Nicholas Day with the children. On the night of December 5, the children put their shoes by the door of their bedrooms, and St. Nicholas comes to fill them with money, candy, and clothing...which they discover the next morning. It's a special time to remember our ancestors and share the fun with the children. It also commemorates the story of a Saint of God.
St. Nicholas was born in 271 AD and died around December 6, 342 or 343 AD near the Asia Minor (Turkey) town of Myra,. where he later became Bishop. He performed many good deeds and was a friend to the poor and helpless, and upon his death, myths soon sprang up about him all around the Mediterranean Sea. He was reputed to be able to calm the raging seas, rescue desperate sailors, help the poor and downtrodden, and save children. He was soon named as the patron saint of sailors, and when Myra was overthrown, his bones were transported by sailors to Bari, a port in Italy, where a tomb was built over the grave and became the center of honor for St. Nicholas. From here the legend spread on around to the Atlantic Coast of Europe and the North Sea to become a European holiday tradition regardless of religion.
The Holiday Today
In anticipation of St. Nicholas's nightly visits, children in several European countries put their shoes in front of the fire place. They sing traditional songs and provide a carrot or hay for the horse. At night Black Pete puts gifts and candy in the shoes.
In the Netherlands, families celebrate St Nicholas's birthday the night before his feast day (December 6th). At one point during the evening, a loud knock will herald the arrival of Sinterklaas and at the same time candy may be thrown from upstairs; when the door is opened, a bag of gifts will be on the doorstep.