On the eve of Saint Nicholas, December 5, Croatian and Hungarian children's homes fill with excitement. Shoes and boots are polished, then placed out in hopes that they will be kindly filled by Sveti Nikola (as he's called in Croatian) or Szent Mikulás (his name in Hungarian).
He may come with a record book recording the children's deeds or an angel who helps distribute presents, but he is always accompanied by the mischief-making Krampus, who leaves twigs for children who "deserve" them.
If Szent Mikulás filled your shoes this year, would you receive candies, fruit, nuts and chocolate other small goodies, or would you find potatoes, stones, switches, or wooden spoons in honor of your misdeeds? If you're like many Hungarian children, you might find a little bit of both.
While many American children today hardly notice the passing of December 6, Saint Nicholas has influenced their Christmas celebrations in many ways. Not the least of which is the tradition of hanging stockings "by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there". Read more about St. Nicholas' influence on American Christmas celebrations at the Saint Nicholas Center's Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus.
And if you're reading this on December 5, don't forget to polish your shoes and put them out!
Image courtesy of the St. Nicholas Center collection. It is the cover illustration of Obitelj, 1933.
This article is part of a series written in celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It will be included as part of the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2009 Day 6: Santa Claus. Make a visit to Thomas MacEntee's GeneaBloggers website for some additional inspiration to get yourself in the holiday spirit!
The article originally appeared here at 100 Years in America and was included in Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2007.