Nikolaus candy container with feather tree
Vintage German Candy Container, ca 1930
St Nicholas Center Collection

In Roman Catholic areas of southern Germany, such as Bavaria, Sankt Nikolaus still comes as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop's miter and staff. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and children clean and polish their shoes or boots in preparation for the saint's visit. On the evening before St. Nicholas Day, children put letters to the good saint along with carrots or other food for his white horse or donkey on a plate or in their shoes. These are left outside, under the bed, beside a radiator, or on a windowsill in hopes of finding goodies from St. Nicholas the next morning. During the night Sankt Nikolaus goes from house to house carrying a book in which all the children's deeds are written. If they have been good, he fills their plate, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and candies. If not, they may find potatoes, coal, or twigs.

Children practice poems and songs for Sankt Nikolaus and make little presents for him. Friends and neighbors come to share in the fun. Candles on the Advent wreath and the big Christmas pyramid with a nativity scene in the center are lit. Stories are read or songs sung as everyone waits for a knock on the door. When it comes, they all know it is Sankt Nikolaus, who comes in with his big book, golden crozier, and a big heavy sack. One of the children gets to hold the golden staff. Each child (and sometimes adults, too) stand in front of the saint. Nikolaus asks each child, "Have you behaved yourself?" "Do you do your homework?" "Do you keep your room tidy?" "Do you help your parents?" Then he opens his big sack and gives presents and candies and treats for all to share. And they give him the little surprises. Nikolaus leaves quickly as he has many places to visit. He travels with a white horse or a donkey and sometimes Ruprecht, his most common German companion, is with him. Ruprecht gives naughty children lumps of coal, sticks or stones.

If Sankt Nikolaus doesn't make a home visit, the children put their winter boots in front of the door. Sankt Nikolaus comes during the night, filling the boots with small toys and leaves a plate of cookies, candies, nuts, apples, and oranges.

Nicolaus with ships and children in tub
German prayer card, ca 1850 St Nicholas Center Collection
Red and gold hand puppet
German hand puppet
St Nicholas Center Collection
Red and blue smoker
German smoker
St Nicholas Center Collection
Pewter ornament
German pewter
St Nicholas Center Collection

Some areas have local customs. In Stuttgart, for example, kids dress up as Nikolaus and go door-to-door asking for sweets—much like trick-or-treating in the United States.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint in the Mosel who protects the river people from danger. From the time of the Celts and Romans ships have been towed upriver manpower and later by horses and oxen. Towing was dangerous and St. Nicholas chapels and shrines were built along the Mosel. Nicholas fraternities and festivals developed. They are still observed in Bernkastel, Reinsport and Urzig.

Nikolaus boat in Bernkastel
St. Nicholas boat in Bernkastel where he is the patron saint of the Mosel and the Bernkasteler Nikolausbruderschaft is still active.
Photo: Christiane De Coster, used by permission

Germany has seven Christmas post offices. One is in Sankt Nikolaus im Warndt. Children's letters are each answered with a letter on special stationery and with a special postmark. In 2021 forty-four volunteers answered 30,711 letters. 90% are from Germany, but the rest come from all over the world. The other Christmas post offices are in Himmelpforten, where it all began 55 years ago, Himmelpfort, Himmelsthür, Engelskirchen, Himmelstadt, and Nikolausdorf.

Nikolaus post office
Nikolaus Post Office in Sankt Nikolaus im Warndt
Photo: Oliver Dietz, dpa picture alliance

In some parts of Germany Nikolaus has come to look more like Santa and Father Christmas and comes at Christmas, not St. Nicholas Day. The influence of other countries, television, and large department stores makes it more difficult to find holy Bishop Nicholas. Even when he comes on December 5th, his appearance sometimes shows that Germany's long-standing gift-givers, Sankt Nikolaus and the Christkindl, are being transformed.

St Nikolaus group
Munich: each year 24 volunteer Niklausen (tax consultants, lawyers, school director, orthodontist and more) visit 70 families, social projects and orphanages giving donated gifts
10 Niklausen
Ten Niklausen from St Nikolaus im Warndt, Germany, went to Freyming-Merlebach, France, to learn how to be St Niklaus

Still, for St. Nicholas Day there is an increased demand for the smaller size apple varieties, Gala, Kanzi, and Elstar, as reported by a government office. Children still receive apples and nuts from St. Nicholas.

World's Largest Cookie!

Letter from St. Nick
A special post office and postmark in St. Nikolaus im Warndt

More in other sections

St. Nicholas Monuments in Germany
Statues and images in public places

Rescuing St. Nicholas from Santa Claus in Germany


Weihnachtsmannfreie Zone
Campaign for "Santa Claus Free Zone" to preserve Bishop Nikolaus
St. Nikolaus images in the churches of Landkreis Dachau

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