Tuesday 6 December 2011

A Tuesday Tale - St. Nicholas Eve traditions, slightly more serious but with a smile at the end

Most folk will have gathered that Moira, who hops in here regularly, and I met up at boarding school absolutely donkeys, and a lame donkey at that, years ago. The school was for children whose Fathers were working in Germany, generally in the Armed Forces. A lot of the staff were German, although the teachers were from the UK, and certain German Traditions were followed.
Each December a large Advent Wreath would be suspended in the stairwell of each House. The Houses were three stories high with cellars running the whole length underneath - it had been a U-boat submarine base during WW11 and we were terrified of those cellars - with good reason, we discovered many years later. The ground and first floor were made up of our rooms, staff flats and dormitories then the top floor was attic space with a massive 'prep. room' where we did our homework, wrote the obligatory weekly letter home every Sunday (those letters, in the first term at least, often begging to go home!) and held little socials and dances (the school was co-ed so there were boys to dance with too!) and so forth.

During Advent, until we all went home for the Christmas hols., each Sunday evening there was a really beautiful tradition. After our supper (generally cold meat and pickles on a Sunday evening) and just before the little ones had to go to bed we would all get into our PJs and dressing gowns (remember those floral nylon quilted dressing gowns - yeah, me too!!). Then we would all gather round the steps around the stairwell banisters from top to bottom, the Advent candle(s) - one more for each Sunday in Advent - on the wreath would be lit and we'd sing a selection of Christmas Carols. 'Stille Nachte' (Silent Night) was always a 'must' and even our stern Matron Frau Habercost who, despite us lived to the age of about 100, could be seen with a little tear in her eye at the freshly scrubbed faces, illuminated by candle light, all chirping their hearts out. Thinking back, it must have been very moving and I still remember it as a very special ritual.

The House Matrons were all German ladies, and every 5th December, there was another little ritual. In Germany, St. Nicholas calls on all children on that evening - known as St. Nicholas Eve - and leaves a little pre-Christmas treat or two in their shoe. Our Matrons used to tell us that the shoe we left outside our room/dorm. door had to be bright and shiny otherwise we might not get a treat. Needless to say, on 5th December there was a little hive of activity, brushes and polish flying round, in the 'boot room' where we kept and cleaned our outdoor shoes, hockey boots, wellies and such. And sure enough, the following morning there would be a little cellophane packet in each shoe containing chocolate and other little treats when we woke up.

And, it was also really easy the next morning to spot the more 'tardy' amongst us ......wearing one bright and shiny shoe and the other one totally unpolished..... in all the excitement and rush to nip into bed and fall fast asleep, lest we didn't leave at least the one shiny shoe and St Nicholas didn't call!

Happy days!



  1. Another BRILLIANT Tuesday Tale! xx

  2. What a captivating tale Di. Thanks for sharing.
    A x

  3. What a lovely memory, brought a smile to my face but left me wondering what is in those cellars

  4. Love memory Di, I grew up in Germany too and remember the 5th of December well! I can't remember if I used to leave my shoe out though! We had one of those scary cellars in our house, it used to scare the life out of me! Think Kevin in the basement from Home Alone... That was me!! Xx

  5. Fab tale. What a life you've led! x

  6. Hi Di, l love reading your stories lovely memories for you and nice of you to share them:) Sandra H

  7. I love your Tuesday tales, Di. This is magic. We were only talking about St Nicholas visiting and leaving sweets today. My Hubby is taking German evening classes and they had been talking about it.
    Hugs Lisax

  8. Another great story, disappointed that you didn't tell us why you had to be frightened of the cellars, maybe that's more of 'Tales from the unexpected'

    Kath x

  9. Di,
    You are truly a wonderful storyteller! What a great memory to have - thanks for sharing.

    As for me, I'd more than likely be one of the children that would have only one polished shoe! ;-)

  10. Aw, such a nice story ... I can just picture you, looking angelic, singing away. The tale of St Nicholas reminds me of the first time my son, Alun, met him. We were in a huge German hypermarket in Munchengladbach, he was only about 17 months old and perched in the trolley enjoying the ride when St Nicholas approached him with sweets - Alun took one look at him and started screaming in utter terror!! It must have been because he was a stranger because the following year he was absolutely fine :)) Thanks for the memory. Elizabeth x

  11. A fabulous post Di.

    It made for great reading and I love the thought of one polished shoe and one not!!

    Love Jules xx

  12. there were some really good times


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