Growing up in Southern Germany has majorly impacted the way my family celebrates Christmas. Like – it’s a big deal. One of our favorite traditions, silly as it sounds to many people on this side of the Atlantic, is leaving one of your shoes outside your door on the night of December 5th. Why would you do this, you ask? It’s a tradition in many European countries to leave a shoe outside your door the night before Saint Nicolas Day, the 6th, so that St. Nicolas can leave the good children fruit and candy.
Pretty much every town has a Christkindlesmarkt where St. Nicolas makes an appearance on the 5th to see if the children were good during the past year and hand out oranges and chestnuts. Of course, it can’t be quite so simple as all that. Where I grew up, St. Nicolas didn’t actually give out the oranges. Oh no. You had to get it from Krampus (or Knecht Ruprecht, depending on where you live), the Santa for the bad kids. Krampus is generally depicted as a demon, but luckily, I was spared that. I grew up with Knecht Ruprecht who looks a lot like St. Nicolas, except he wears a dirty coat, has a chain for a belt, and has dirt on his face. Charming. It doesn’t sound bad, but imagine having to go get an orange from him after having been told that if you’re bad, he’ll take you from your home, whip you with a switch, and leave you in the middle of nowhere to find your way back home. Just so you know, that’s not the standard story. The normal story is that St. Nicolas leaves you fruit and candy if you’re good, while Knecht Ruprecht will leave you coal or switches if you’re bad. I really don’t know why I cherish such a weird and sort of frightening tradition, but I do. So next year, leave out a shoe, but only if you’ve been good!