The Little Nicholas

by Winfried Wolf, from Hat der Fuchs auch eine Grossmutter, translated by Louis Carus in The Real St. Nicholas

Here's a twentieth-century story about a trick that soon got transformed into a happy lesson by a wise parent with a sense of humor. —LC

Postcard detail: Austria
St. Nicholas Center Collection

One year on December 5, St. Nicholas Eve, the front door suddenly swung wide open. There stood a very small, very young Nicholas in my thick winter coat, dragging the bottom half of it on the threshold. My only hat had slipped down over his ears and forehead, so that his eyes just barely peeked out from below. In one hand he was holding a garbage bag; in the other he held an old straw broom.

Wearing my high winter boots that reached almost to his thighs, this little Nicholas clomped up and stood importantly in front of me. "Are you the father of Felix and Clemens?" he asked in a forced deep voice.

Speechless, I could only nod.

"Aha," the little Nicholas bellowed, grabbing an old notebook out of the garbage sack. "Too bad, too bad, but I notice many big sins! For one thing, you don't give your children enough candy! Not only that, you send them to bed too early. And they don't get to watch TV very often. And here's something even worse: You don't play with them enough!"

Then with a dramatic flourish the little Nicholas opened up the garbage bag and said: "As a punishment, I'll put you in my sack and carry you away! Get in now!"

Obediently, I climbed in, but the bag only came up to my knees. Now it was the little Nicholas who was speechless. But not for long.

"Well, OK," he said gruffly, "you are lucky enough this time, but you'll get the rod later!"

"No," I shook my head slowly. "I don't think you are the real St. Nicholas." "Why not?" my little visitor asked, amazed.

"Because the real St. Nicholas doesn't punish. Instead, he praises a person and brings a beautiful present," I answered. "The real St. Nicholas was actually a very good man. He especially loved children and gave them gifts. That's why we have St. Nicholas Day—to remember him."

"But the real St. Nicholas had a rod!" the little Nicholas shouted.

"No," I said, "the real Nicholas was a bishop and always carried his bishop's staff. The rod was invented by fathers and mothers who think their children will obey only when they are afraid."

"And did the real Nicholas have presents for children who weren't always so good?" the little one asked.

"Naturally," I answered. "After all, grown-ups aren't always so good, either." "You're sure?" the little Nicholas insisted. "Is it really true that the children who were sometimes naughty also got a present?"

"Yes," I answered solemnly. "I'm sure that's true."

"That's good!" the little Nicholas shouted with relief. "I'm not the real St. Nicholas, you see. In fact, I'm actually Clemens. But you didn't recognize me, did you?"

"No, I certainly did not! I would never have thought you were Clemens!" I tried to answer with a straight face.

"I didn't think so," cried little Nicholas-Clemens triumphantly. "And I am very good most of the time! Now I'll go find Felix and after that the real St. Nicholas will come. Hurrah!"

And with that, eyes bright with anticipation, the little imposter pulled off my hat, kicked off my boots, and bounded up the stairs as fast as he could go with the skirt of my heavy coat trailing behind him.

Excerpt from The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope From Around the World, by Louise Carus, editor and translator, copyright © 2002. Reprinted by permission of Quest Books/The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois.

This delightful collection of thirty St. Nicholas stories includes many folktales that are not well-known. One story may be read each day during Advent or one or two could be selected for St. Nicholas Day. Other information and recipes are also included. Purchase from, or

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