St. Nicholas and his Day in Germany at Christmas

Many of you are probably already familiar with St. Nicholas Day, known in Germany as Nikolaustag, when, on the evening of December 5, little children place their [well-polished] shoes or boots outside the door, on the windowsill or under the bed. They write letters to the saint and set out carrots for his white horse, hoping that in the morning he will remember them and fill their shoes with tasty treats—though those who’ve been naughty may find coal or twigs.

One of my nicest German Christmas market memories was witnessing a Nikolaustag event at the Christmas Market at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin, It was even better because it was completely unanticipated. I described it in an earlier post,

a3There were lots of little children carrying lanterns and waiting in a group in the forecourt of the castle looking extremely sweet. In due course, the saintly bishop arrived—along with an enormous camel and a llama—and off they all paraded to the special children’s area.

It was obviously a big deal for the kids.

You’d think there would be a lot of similar appearances by St. Nicholas at Christmas markets on his special day, but I’m finding just a few.

In the fashionable Black Forest spa town of Baden-Baden, for example, the saint arrives with panache by hot air balloon, landing on the lawn in front of the Kurhaus casino.

Bernkastel-Kues Torch SwimmersEven more theatrical, in the pretty medieval town of Bernkastel-Kues on the Moselle River (think Riesling vineyards), there is an annual Fackelschwimmen (torch swim). More than 100 members of the local Oktopus diving club plunge into the river carrying lit torches to guide the way for St. Nicholas on his boat. As the swimmers arrive, St. Nicholas hands out presents to children waiting on the riverbank. Next day there is a 10-kilometer St. Nicholas walk, through the town, departing from the market square in the company of knights from Landshut Castle.

In Munich, you can meet and greet St. Nicholas at the main Christkindlmarkt in the Marienplatz every afternoon between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. Somehow, even though I’ve been to that market on a number of occasions, I seem to have missed him. Next time I’ll know.

Next up: Saint Nicholas is not Santa Claus!

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