A Czech Tradition, St. Nicholas Day

Well, I forgot to put my shoes out last night, but my dad just St. Nicholas Dayreminded me, Happy St. Nicholas Day!
For those that don’t know about it, this day has a very long tradition in the Czech culture (mom’s side of the family). On the night of December 5th families put their shoes out and put some hay or carrots in them for the reindeer (or donkey) that travels with St. Nicholas. During the night, St. Nicholas visits all the homes and if you have been good, leaves a treat in your shoe like candy, some coins, an orange or sometimes a book.  Mom always did this for us as kids and then we took up the tradition.

Unlike good old Santa Clause, St. Nicholas could be kind of scary. I remember when I was a young child going to see St. Nicholas and he wasn’t the friendly jolly guy in red. St. Nicholas actually carries a switch made from a branch and if you haven’t been good, you might not only have empty shoes the next morning, but your butt smacked. I think it was more of a scare tactic by parents to keep kids in line.
My Nana, a true Czech, told us that she remembers that on the eve of December 5th, people would dress as a trio of St. Nicholas, an angel and a devil and wonder through the streets asking children if they have behaved themselves over the year and then reward or punish them. This tradition wasn’t a replacement for Christmas, but more of a start to the holiday season as they still did the larger celebration on December 24th.
While we avoided the St. Nicholas character with the switch (except for that one time…but luckily I got a candy cane and not the switch), we loved the idea of putting out our shoes with treats for the reindeer and finding something special the next morning and hopefully next year I’ll remember to carry on the tradition!

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