Who is actually “Nikolaus”? - Traditional characters in German Christmas Mythology

Filled boot at Nikolaus Day

Filled boot at Nikolaus Day, © Pixabay

27.11.2018 - Article

December is the month of Christmas tree, story telling and presents. Some children may wonder where these presents are coming from. In Germany, the answer to this is (depending on the kids' age and mindset of the parents of course) the “Christkind” brought them at night while everyone was asleep.

Now you are probably wondering who is the “Christkind”? Isn’t it only Santa Claus’ job to deliver presents ? No! In fact there is actually another person involved, named “Nikolaus”. This story starts in the 4th century: Nikolaus of Myra, a bishop in Lycia (present-day Turkey), was regarded as very merciful and charitable. Everything he collected and received was given to the poor. Nikolaus died at the age of 73 on December 6. He is remembered for his charity and selfless acts and especially cared about the poor and children. This all led to the “Einlegebrauch” tradition in Germany, where children put their freshly cleaned shoes in front of the door on the night of December 6, which are filled with treats the next morning. This might sound familiar to you since here in Canada children hang up socks onto the fireplace mantels, hoping for it to be filled.

Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology in the 16th century, demanded that only Christmas, in particular the birth of Jesus should be celebrated. As a result, Nikolaus became unemployed and the “Christkind” entered the scene to now give out gifts to the children. The Christkind is shown with wings, robes, golden curls and a holy shine to represent purity and childishness. This all led to Santa Claus and the Christkind sharing the job in many German-Canadian families, giving them the perfect Work-Life-Balance. Meanwhile Nikolaus is still celebrated in Germany on the 6th of December. So, in case a child asks you who is actually in charge of the gift delivery, now you know what to say.

Top of page