When I was young I loved Christmas as much as any kid. Yet when I would hear about the tradition of St. Nicholas Day a little part of me wished that like the children in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, I could place my little shoes outside my bedroom door waiting to be filled to overflowing with goodies.
While my own Christmas celebration reaped far more gifts than could ever fit in a shoe there was just something about their tradition that intrigued me. Each December 6th, the feast day of the Saint of Children, I imagined putting my shoes for St. Nick. I never dreamed that I was putting out regular old shoes but rather a pair of perfectly painted wooden shoes.
From the time I first heard the story about a Dutch boy who saves his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike, I have had a fascination with the Netherlands, windmills, and wooden shoes. This holiday played right into my little fantasy of what life must be like for the young girls that wear those unusual shoes.
In much the same way our Santa Claus visits our homes during the night, St. Nicholas along with Zwarte Piet, who is roughly that equivalent of one of Santa’s elves make an annual visit to fill children’s shoes with gold coins, candy canes, tangerines, and cookies. They also leave a pebble or piece of coal along with the treats as a reminder to each child that no one is perfect.
Even in my imagination I had anticipated the excitement as I set my shoes neatly by the door. I could already hear my feet click-click-clicking as I danced in delight over the stash of goodies I had received from this stately bishop in a red cloak and miter.
In hindsight, I’m sure my parents would have been clicking up their heels at only having to buy enough gifts to fill six little pairs of shoes rather than the mountain of gifts that always landed beneath the Christmas tree of our large family. As a parent now myself I’m still fantasizing about St. Nicholas Day but let’s just say that the wooden shoe is now on the other foot.
Happy St. Nicholas Day!