I started this blog this morning because I was confronted with a cultural dilemma, and I am not sure how to respond to it. Today is St. Nicholas Day in Germany, well in most of Europe. As an American married to a German and living in Germany for the for seeable future, I experience culture clash every once in a while.
Who is St. Nicholas? And why must I leave my smelly boot out for him? As any former graduate student would do - I Googled him. Well first I checked out one of my favorite websites - www.wikipedia.org.
Now, as a child in the States I was taught that St. Nicholas and Santa are the same. St. Nick is a jolly soul (wait, I think I just stole that from something . . .) who gives presents to children on Christmas Eve. Not so in Europe!! It seems that St. Nicholas visits children in Europe on the evening of Dec. 5. (Why do they get him early?? ) In fact, St. Nicholas day is the gift giving day in the Netherlands. St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of prostitutes (I leave you to make your own connection). I looked at my husband this morning and said, "Well what about Christmas Eve?" "No, " he responded. "That is the Christmas Man (Weihnachtsman)." I insisted that they are the same, but was not convinced.
So, who is the Christmas Man? According to my husband, that is Santa Clause, who is an invention of the Americans. Hmmm . . . Suddenly it was clear to me why Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve. They do not have to wait for Santa Claus. He came by on Dec. 5!! I never liked opening my presents on Christmas Eve. I always insist on opening presents on Dec. 25. Christmas Eve is big in Germany. That is when the Christmas tree goes up - another tradition that confounds me but is the subject of another blog.
Now, here is my dilemma. One day I would like to have children, little German-American children. What should I tell them about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus? Well, if they are the same "person," then the different holiday traditions clarifies one of the mysteries of Santa. How does he deliver all of those presents in one night? He doesn't. He delivers them on different nights throughout the world, to Europe on Dec. 5 and to the U.S. on Dec. 24. So my children, I think I will have to tell them that St. Nick will visit them twice. I am not sure how that will go over on the playground ("My mom says St. Nick will visit it me twice because I am a special German-American." My kids are totally going to get beat up.)
These are the problems that you face in a Euro-American world, which is the title of my blog.
For further info on St. Nicholas check-out: