Because tonight is St. Nicholas Eve! In our home, we celebrate St. Nicholas Eve, which is a custom that originated in Europe. (St. Nicholas is the predecessor of our modern Santa Claus.) St. Nicholas was a 3rd century bishop known for his kindness and generosity. It is said that his red miter and red robes eventually evolved into the stocking cap and long red coat worn by Santa, and his deeds were the impetus for the kindness associated with Santa.
In Europe, the children put out their shoes on St. Nicholas Eve. The next morning, they wake up to find little treats and goodies in them, and often a letter from St. Nicholas praising them for their good works throughout the year, and encouraging them to improve in their weaknesses.
St. Nicholas is especially popular in the Netherlands. He's known as Sinter Klaas there. He is accompanied by a little elf known as Zwiet Piet (Black Peter) (who hands out coal and switches to children who haven't been good.)
My two kids don't know it, but we are driving over to Holland, Michigan this afternoon (about a 3-4 hour drive). Holland has a little celebration on St. Nicholas Eve. St. Nicholas rides into town on his white horse, accompanied by Zwiet Piet, to start off the holiday celebrations. They also have story time with St. Nicholas at one of the stores in town, and other holiday events and happenings. So I've decided to surprise them with a visit to see St. Nicholas!
They are a bit worried that St. Nicholas won't find them at the hotel where we are staying, but I've assured them that this is "no problem." So they will put out their shoes tonight in the hotel.
Traditionally, St. Nicholas gives little sweets and treats to the kids (not big presents). Each item has some significance. Some treats may include:
- candy cane (represents the bishop's miter and also a "J" upside down)
- bag of gold chocolate coins (he is known for giving a bag of coins to a poor family)
- a book or DVD on St. Nicholas (the bishop, not Santa Claus)
- a St. Nicholas cookie or treat (I make them myself)
- a St. Nicholas ornament or icon
- a homemade gift or game
You can find a ton of terrific resources and information, including some "shoe stuffer" downloads, at this website: