Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

December 6th is an important date for
children in many parts of Germany, because it is the feast day of St. Nicholas; or, as Germans often call him, Nikolaus. He is the patron saint of children. He is also the patron saint of sailors,
lawyers, thieves, prison guards and prostitutes, which is an interesting selection. The real Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop of Myra which is in what is now Turkey. And he seems to have been
a very interesting person: an examination of his skeleton revealed that
he once suffered a broken nose. What’s more interesting is one of
the many legends surrounding St Nicholas. This is the story of how he saved
three girls from a life of prostitution. It also explains why he’s the patron saint of
both children and prostitutes. There’s a man; and he has three daughters, all growing up and all
approaching marriageable age. Unfortunately, the man cannot afford
to pay for their dowries, which means, in the society of that time,
they won’t be able to get married. And in 4th-century Turkey, the only way an unmarried woman could get
an income was to sell her body. Now, there are actually
different versions of the story; but the one I’m going to tell
is the most interesting because of what it says about modern traditions. One night, under cover of darkness, Nicholas throws a bag of money
through an open window into the house of the man and his daughters: enough money to pay for
the eldest daughter’s dowry. The next night, Nicholas throws
another bag of money through the window: enough for the second daughter’s dowry. On the third night, the man
is determined to lie in wait in order to be able to thank
whoever’s been giving him the money. But Nicholas finds out about this plan, and so instead climbs onto the roof and drops the money down the chimney. The youngest daughter had
washed her stockings that day, and so had hung them up over the embers to dry. And so into one of the stockings falls
the third bag of money. St Nicholas is known to Dutch children
as “Sinter Klaas”, and this is one of the inspirations behind
the American figure of Santa Claus. The other main inspiration is the British
figure of Father Christmas, the very spirit of fun and generosity. And so Santa, like Father Christmas,
is a merry old man; like St Nicholas, he delivers gifts
to children through the chimney, putting them in stockings hung up by the fire. In many parts of Germany, St Nicholas’s Day
is still celebrated on December 6th; it’s not actually a holiday. But the night before, children
hang up their stockings by the fire; or, more usually, put their shoes
outside their bedroom door. In the morning, they find them
filled with nuts, fruits and chocolates. And although American influence
means that these days St Nicholas is very often depicted
wearing a red cap, traditionally, because he’s a bishop,
he wears a mitre.

33 Replies to “Saint Nicholas”

  1. That video of yours brought back memories of back when I was little. My sisters and I would put our biggest boots, either rainboots or snowboots (not shoes), in front of our bedroom doors. Aaah those were the days… =)
    Btw. do you intend on showing us some Christmas market videos from your area?

  2. As a child I found it a bit confusing that there were supposed to be two people who look very similar and who both bring gifts. One (Nikolaus) on the 6th and one (Santa) on the 24th of December. Since one was inspired by the other I guess my confusion was understandable. I could always tell them apart by their hats. To me St. Nikolaus always wore a mitre. Never anything else.

  3. One of the oldest illustraions I know that show St. Nicholas in connection with children is indeed Dr. Hofffmann's "Der Struwwelpeter" from the 1840s. Here the old man punishes brutally three little rascals for insulting a black child by dipping them into black ink so that they may experience for themselves what it means to be black. Here Nicholas wears a red coat and a red cap.

  4. The confusion between "Weihnachtsmann" ( Father Christmas) and "St. Nikolaus" is made even bigger by the idea that in the Catholic parts of Germany it is not the Weihnachtsmann but the "Christkind" that brings the gifts. And that child is meant to look like a teenage angel with long, golden locks.

  5. In Hamburg and Schleswig Holstein and regions around "Santa Clause" is called "Sünna Klaas" (spoken: Synna Klaas [y like in Rythm, a like Last(american engl.), aa like Call, or Ball(engl.)])

    It's low german again. And it's very similiar to the culture of netherlands.

  6. Keep this up and I'm going to get so smart! Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous New year to you, your family and friends from the middle of America!!

  7. Great Video about this tradition and the background I haven't known about. Though I would have found it interesting to hear something about the double-celebration of St. Nicholas, because many german kids except the "Weihnachtsmann" on december 24th who is in my opninion just Santa Claus or a german version of him. Also I would have found it interesting if you know the "Christkind" who I thaught brought the gifts when I was a child.

  8. 1:28 "eine Geldbeutel"
    1:38 "eine weitere Geldbeutel"
    2:10 "die dritte Geldbeutel"
    It's actually "der Geldbeutel". "Die Geldbeutel" is plural!

  9. Der Nikolaus ist unser Familien Pechtag 😀
    Es gibt nur noch 3 fällen denen noch nichts passiert ist, unzwar ich und meine Brüder.
    Also gestern wars Kurios, keinen ist was passiert wir haben nur immer sachen umgewofen/runterfallen lassen – bis ich heute erfahre das meine beste Freundin dafür 8 mal auf die Fresse geflogen ist XD

  10. There's an interesting theory saying that St. Nikolaus as we know him actually has his origin in a mythological Chinese figure, also a kind of patron for children, mainly providing them as potentially neglected members of the society in harsh wintertime, with food. This figure gained popularity along the silk route and was brought to Anatolia by the Turkish tribes. The Christian inhabitants, according to this theory, adopted this figur amalgating it with their Saint Niklaus of Myra. So not only Santa Claus, but already his forerunner may have benefitted from globalization.

  11. Saint Nick's Day (Szent Mikulás Napja) is also celebrated in Hungary. I imagine it's the same in Austria and the rest of the former Austrian Empire.

  12. Does at Nicholas have a black faced servant in Germany as in the Netherlands? Do people dress up in blackface?

  13. Der Cocacolaweihnachtsmann hat in einem anständigen Haus nix verloren. Es kommt am Nikolausabend der Heilige Nikolaus (mit Mitra, Chormantel und Bischofsstab) und an Heiligabend das Christkind. Der Rest ist amerikanischer Kulturimperialismus!

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