Retroist friends, do many of you know of Saint Nicholas Day? Looking back, 1976 was one of the most interesting calendar years of my youth. My family rang in the Bicentennial New Year saying goodbye to 1975 from our home near Ft. Hood, Texas, and New Year’s Eve 1976 was spent almost 5,000 miles away in Schwaebish Hall, Germany as well as learning about Saint Nicholas Day.
Dad went to Europe in the summer of ’76 ahead of Mom, my little brother and me so he could set up a new home for us. We arrived in Germany late in November that year, and it was a thrill seeing all the sights along the Autobahn on our way to the new apartment from Frankfurt Airport.
Let me take a quick break here to list one of my father’s biggest gripes during the 36 months we spent in Germany. Our family had to take the Autobahn to get nearly anywhere over there, and the German word for “exit” is “ausfahrt.” And there was an “ausfahrt” every 5 kilometers on the super highway. C’mon, guys. I was 7 years old and could read very well. My brother and I giggled and laughed at those signs the whole three years we spent in Germany. Never got old to us. But to my father? Not so much…
Anyway, I jumped right into school beginning Dec. 1 that year, and immediately learned about Saint Nicholas Day coming up on Dec. 6. The basic, stripped-down explanation for this traditionally-European holiday is that German kids put shoes outside the door of their home before going to bed the night of Dec. 5. If they find candy inside their footwear the next morning, they were good-to-go for Christmas. However, finding switches or coal in their shoes meant they only had a couple of weeks to make things right with the “Jolly Ol’ Elf” if they wanted to receive toys for Christmas. Finding empty shoes was reportedly even worse. It meant Santa totally forgot about you because you were sooooo bad…!
I came home to tell my little brother all about Saint Nicholas Day, and we placed our shoes by the door and leapt into bed.
“Why are you doing that,” Mom asked us.
After I explained, she replied, “Awww. That’s sweet. Night-night boys…!”
The next morning, we were treated to all sorts of candy bars and treats overflowing from our off-brand sneakers from Sears.
Right then, we knew for SURE that we had been good all year and Santa would be stopping to see us in Germany…!
And that was the end of my St. Nicholas Day story that I told to folks for the next 25 years or so.
While helping my mother put up their Christmas tree sometime during the late 1990s, I reminded mom about our first visit from St. Nicholas.
That’s when she told me what REALLY happened after her two sons went to bed that fateful night in 1976. During the 1970s, there was no such thing as late-night convenience stores or all-night grocery stores. If you didn’t buy it before 6 p.m., you didn’t need it. Mom told me she gave Dad a wad of cash and told him to find some candy so her little boys wouldn’t have broken hearts the next morning. It had been snowing heavily for hours, and we lived several miles from the military base.
Dad got dressed and drove down dark and icy roads to reach the company barracks where he worked. Upstairs was where lower-ranking soldiers lived who did not have families overseas with them. Mom said he had to bargain with the guys after rustling them out of bed to get enough change gathered to raid the snack machines as “St. Nicholas” in the office’s break room.
That explains why we received so many packs of Wrigley’s gum in our shoes.
Retroist friends, take a few minutes to look up this holiday for yourselves and see if you can work it into a new tradition for your family tonight. Just be sure to get your candy from the store before it’s too late. Happy Saint Nicholas Day to you all!
While you are waiting for Saint Nicholas Day – why not listen to Doris Day sing about Ol’ Saint Nick from 1949?
[Via] Music Prof 78