Monday, December 06, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. In my family the tradition of leaving out your shoes the night before the feast day was an exciting moment. It's like a Christmas preview in a way. You'd leave your shoes out by the fireplace, or if you grew up in a home without a fireplace, by the front door. In the morning there may or may not be a treat for you. Good children got candy, oranges and maybe a small trinket. Bad children would get sticks or coal. And sometimes you'd get both. It was St. Nicholas' way of saying you did some good and some bad.

The night before we talked about this tradition. This tradition of twigs in shoes is an old custom tracing its way back to our Austria-Hungarian roots. In the old days children left their shoes on the window sill in hopes of them being filled with treats. I explained that sometimes St. Nicholas would put twigs in the shoes of naughty children rather than the coal other kids hear about getting. Olivia said "Oh man, I think I'm gonna get sticks this year. I really hope I don't but I think I will." St. Nicholas day is a serious matter for Olivia, it was a way to see how well you behaved all year. Then she wanted to know where St. Nicholas got the sticks, why did he put them in there, and how many you got. I think she was trying to determine if the number of sticks corresponded to the degrees of being naughty.

Leah on the other hand was indifferent about the whole tradition. She appreciated the story and sat long enough to listen but I could tell it was of little importance to her. Whereas Olivia immediately set her shoes out Leah was busy setting off to play Legos. We reminded Leah to put her shoes out but I guess it wasn't on her to do list. Eventually Leah tossed one shoe over in front of the fireplace. You could see her lack of effort as she left the shoe as it fell, on its side off center of the fireplace, never looking back. Olivia was frustrated with Leah's indifference. All Olivia could think about were those twigs filling her shoes. Olivia took matters into her own hands and picked out the matching shoe and arranged the pair of Leah's shoes properly. Perhaps some last minute good works. I found it adorable.


On this very cold morning the result of their goodness was revealed. If I relied on Leah to fill me in there would be no word until I asked, or even inspected her shoes. Thankfully Olivia is a great informer. She ran upstairs and exclaimed "St. Nicholas came; He gave us some treats. And I didn't get any sticks!" She was so pleased with the lack of sticks. I couldn't help but laugh. How could you not? Turns out all night long Olivia worried about those shoes. She had dreams of sticks overflowing those shoes. I bet even dreams of sticks chasing her. You never know with that girl. Which leaves me wondering what St. Nicholas had missed about Olivia this past year. Maybe he wasn't watching as closely as he should have been. I'd like to think that she's much more humble than we thought. In actuality it's likely a combination of them both.

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