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St Nicholas Day shoe-related tradition goes back at least 300 years

Darcy Rafter December 6, 2021
St Nicholas Day shoe-related tradition goes back at least 300 years
Photo By DAVID BREWSTER/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Everyone is counting down the days until 25th December, but in the lead up to the big day, many people across Europe celebrate St Nicholas Day. St Nick’s day has many pre-Christmas traditions including one related to shoes which dated back at least 300 years.

St Nicholas Day is celebrated on 6th December and it tends to mark the “official” start of the Christmas season. One of the main traditions around Christmas time is opening Advent calendars or Elf on the Shelf but on St. Nick’s Day there is a different way to observe it.

Let’s find out what the shoe-related tradition is and what its origins are as children wake up this morning to a special treat in their shoes.

What is the St Nicholas Day shoe-related tradition?

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated between the 5th-6th of December. One of the traditions is to put offerings in shoes which are exchanged in turn for gifts or treats. The tradition is predominantly seen in European and Eastern countries where this tradition is celebrated, particularly those countries with a strong Catholic following.

Each year, on the eve of December 5th, children will leave a single boot or shoe outside their doorsteps. This shoe is then magically filled overnight with chocolate and sweets or even money. It is much like the tradition of hanging stockings up on Christmas Eve for it to be filled with gifts in the morning.

Shoe traditions origin goes back at least 300 years

St. Nicholas tradition became popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In the years of December 1773 and 1774, a New York newspaper reported that many Dutch families had gathered to honour the anniversary of St Nicholas’ death. Ways to honour his death included the tradition of leaving out the shoes filled with offerings.

The Origins of Saint Nicholas Day

Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop who lived in Myra, in what we know today as Turkey. Legend has it, he is the son of rich parents and gave his entire wealth to the poor.

Saint Nicholas was known for looking after the sick and being generous to children. Nicholas used his inheritance to help others in need. Many sources say he died on December 6 in AD 343 and became a saint within a century of his death. Many myths and tales have formed the traditions we see today which are all in the spirit of giving.

One legend says that St. Nicholas helped families who needed money by throwing bags of gold into their homes through the windows. Legend has it that one time the gold apparently landed on some winter shoes and stockings that had been laid out near the fire to dry. This led to the tradition of children putting out shoes or stockings at night for Saint Nicholas to fill with gifts.

St. Nick became the modern-day Santa Claus, which is widely associated with the Christmas season.

How to celebrate St. Nick’s day

Children layout shoes filled with carrots and hay for the St. Nick’s horse or donkey hoping to get small gifts in exchange. They may also fill shoes, boots or stockings and leave them out for Saint Nicholas are fruits and nuts, chocolate, sweets, poems and gifts. The shoes are often left near a fireplace, on the windowsill, at the front door or near a bedroom door.

Many people celebrate St. Nicholas Day by baking and putting on feasts. Particular recipes are associated with this holiday and there are many recipes for desserts, bread, cakes and more dishes.

Other traditions include doing a deep spring clean of the house, on 5th December to prepare for St. Nick’s arrival. The shoes are also polished thoroughly to give and receive the offerings.

In regions of Dutch heritage, there is often a St. Nicholas Day parade whereby a person dressed as St. Nicholas throws sweets to kids along the parade route. The parade is focused on the act of giving and being selfless.

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Darcy is an experienced journalist passionate about celebrity culture and entertainment. After gaining a degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University she has also become a social media specialist, always keeping informed on the latest trends. With almost five years of experience in media, her expertise is analysing platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When she's not tracking the latest trending content, she’s watching films and eating lots of chocolate.