St Nicholas’ Day (6 December)

According to an article by the official portal of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,

“Every year on 6 December, children throughout the Grand Duchy eagerly await the arrival of the Kleeschen (St Nicholas) and the gifts he brings.

In the Grand Duchy, the Kleeschen takes the form of an old man with white hair and a white beard, dressed in red. Unlike Father Christmas, St Nicholas wears a red bishop’s mitre on his head and carries a bishop’s crozier.
He is most often accompanied by the Houseker, his fear-inspiring dark companion, who gives switches to children who have misbehaved.

In the Grand Duchy, this day is so important that the Ministry of National Education has decided to declare it a holiday for children in fundamental education. During the run-up to 6 December, the Kleeschen also visits classes in fundamental schools.

From the end of November, children leave their slippers outside their bedroom doors every night for the Kleeschen to bring them first sweets and then, during the night between 5 and 6 December, proper presents (toys and more sweets). In general, he does not allow himself to be seen by small children, who discover all their gifts early in the morning.

Historical background

‘Niklosdag’ (St Nicholas’ Day) is celebrated in honour of Nicholas of Myra, also known as Nicholas of Bari, a young bishop in the 4th century who, according to legend, saved a number of children from death.

In the Middle Ages, St Nicholas became the patron saint and protector of young children.

Today, St Nicholas is celebrated in many European countries: not only Luxembourg, but also France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Poland, Austria and others.

Kleeschen, Father Christmas, Santa Claus…

Saint Nicholas is actually the ancestor of Father Christmas.
Towards the beginning of the 17th century, the tradition of St Nicholas was taken to the United States by European immigrants, where it spread rapidly. The Kleeschen became Santa Claus.

Over the years, this special day for children merged with Christmas, with Santa Claus (Father Christmas) bringing his gifts to American children on 25 December.

His persona has also evolved: Saint Nicholas’s mitre has been replaced by a long, floppy red hat and his donkey by a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

As American traditions have in turn spread throughout Europe, it is sometimes difficult for Luxembourgish parents these days to explain to their children the coexistence of the Kleeschen and Santa Claus, and the difference between them.”

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