Adopting Traditions From My Travels: St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas Day
Celebrating the tradition of St Nicholas Day, with chocolate and small presents being left in children’s shoes

Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag), where ‘Saint Nicholas’ makes his yearly visit to the houses of children in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other countries throughout the world. If you’ve been well-behaved he’ll leave you chocolates and sweets. Been bad? Coal, twigs, or other less pleasant things might be headed your way.

The real Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity, and there are many stories about how he would use secret gift-giving to help those most in need. I first heard of Nikolaustag when I was eleven years old and sitting in my first year of German language classes. We learned about German children waiting anxiously for the arrival of Saint Nicholas and learned to sing German songs, such as “Sei gegruesst, lieber Nikolaus”. It all sounded wonderful – Saint Nicholas seemed to be a Christmas version of the Easter bunny, leaving chocolate in his wake.

Six years later, I experienced it first hand while on a German exchange trip. While Saint Nicholas visited the other students in my school group the morning of December 6, he took until that evening to get around to my host family’s house! There, in one of my boots left out by the stairs, was not only a Kinder Surprise and a bar of Milka chocolate, but also some gloves and a scarf. The extended family came over, songbooks were handed out, and a night of fun and song commenced (no “Sei gegrusst lieber Nikolaus” but plenty of other traditional German Christmas carols).

My brother stayed with the same family when he was on school exchange, and since he returned we’ve made sure to celebrate Nikolaustag every year. It usually falls right near our family’s long-held tradition of putting up our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of December, which is our first sign that the holiday season has started.

Have you ever adopted the traditions of other countries for yourself?


Christmas Tree Day: Celebrating Family Holiday Traditions

My family has many traditions around Christmas. From singing carols on Christmas Eve, to the extended family lunch, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without them.

Putting up the Christmas tree is my favourite of all of our family traditions. Each year, on the first Sunday of December, we get together, pull out the Christmas Tree box (my parents’ fake Christmas tree has lasted for more than 30 years and is still going (mostly) strong!), and put together the tree branches, string up the lights, and adorn the tree with tinsel, baubles and decorations. Since they’ve had the same tree and most of the same decorations for forever, there’s a lovely sense of nostalgia to the routine of putting up the Christmas tree.

My parents' 36 year old Christmas tree
My parents’ 36 year old Christmas tree. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without it.

This year is the first time I’ve had my own tree, so after we had gathered at my parents’ house to put together and decorate their tree, we all came around to my house to do the same for mine.

My Christmas tree
My Christmas tree. As the years go on and I travel more I hope to add more decorations! to it.

While travelling, I usually buy Christmas decorations to give to my parents as souvenirs, which makes decorating the Christmas tree that much more interesting. We reminisce about each decoration as it is given a place on the tree. Among them, there’s a puffin from Iceland, a Scottish guard from Edinburgh, and a train made out of Waterford crystal that I bought for Mum on my latest trip to Ireland.

My globe Christmas decoration
My globe Christmas decoration, bought in 2014 from an Oliver Bonas store when I was staying in London.

Now that my Christmas tree is up and my living room is decorated with candles and tinsel, it feels like Christmas is finally here. All I need is the weather to make up it’s mind and for the Aussie summer to show up – it’s currently 34 degrees Celsius here but pouring with rain!

What are your favourite holiday traditions?

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

An Aussie Christmas

Christmas is a time full of family and tradition. I love how our family gathers together to celebrate each year. Here’s what a typical Christmas looks like for me:

Christmas Eve

We tend to gather at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve for a carols sing along. The Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight, which is televised from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, has been a tradition ever since I can remember. We joke that Dennis Walter and one of my uncles could be twins, get up and dance around the house to the kid’s entertainment, and sing our hearts out to Deck the Halls, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jerusalem.

Our Christmas tree
Our Christmas tree

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is divided in to four parts for us: Preparation, Gift Giving, Lunch, and After Lunch.

Christmas lunch is the big meal of the day, and we usually have several members of the extended family over. To get ready for their arrival, the morning is a flurry of last-minute cleaning, putting out table decorations, and cooking.

By the time the family starts arriving, the preparations are mostly done and we can sit down, catch up, and exchange presents.

Christmas table decorations
The table’s decorated – we’re ready for lunch!

Depending on how hot it is (Christmas Day temperatures tend to hover anywhere between 20 – 35 degrees Celsius), we have turkey, chicken, and kebabs cooked on the barbecue, as well as salads. We always eat so much that dessert – gingerbread, mince pies, chocolate truffles, fruit and cheese platters and my Mum’s famous fruit salad ice cream – often comes out in lieu of tea around 6pm!

Almond milk rock, gingerbread stars and chocolate ginger - Christmas staples in our household!
Almond milk rock, gingerbread stars and chocolate ginger – Christmas staples in our household!

The rest of the day is spent in a food coma, chatting and playing games. This year my uncle brought over Cards Against Humanity – it’s an inappropriately hilarious game, and it suddenly seems like everyone I know either owns it, has played it, or knows someone who has played it!

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a quiet day in our house – still full from lunch the day before, it is a day for sleeping and lazing around, before the end of the year and returning back to work sets in.

A cute Christmas penguin candle
A cute Christmas penguin candle

Do you have any Christmas traditions? Share them in the comments!