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Leaving our shiney shoes on windowsill for St. Nick

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

As children, we gathered around the window on the night of Dec.5 to see if we could catch a glimpse of St. Nicholas as he came by to fill our shoes. We left them on the windowsill. It was just three of us, my two cousins and I.

They were older, and I don’t know if they still believed that St. Nicholas would come by, but they wanted the presents, so the shoes, nice and polished, went on the windowsill.

St. Nicholas would come while we were sleeping, but one evening as I stared out the window, I could have sworn that I saw something fly by. It could have been him getting an early start, since he would have to cover a good part of Europe that night. A lot of boys and girls expected their shiney shoes filled when they woke up.

Children who were bad during the year would find pieces of coal in their shoes. None of us were ever that bad, though. We all got something other than coal. Plus, coal was used to heat the small room we lived in, and perhaps more valuable thrown in the fire than wasted in someone’s shoe.

Some European countries got a visit from St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, while others saw him on Dec. 19. The USA doesn’t get a visit on those days. Santa waits until Christmas. By sectioning off the gift-giving, Santa or St. Nicholas can keep up with all those gifts. That’s my theory. I just thought of it.

And, over here, we don’t have to worry about getting our shoes ready. We use stockings. That’s a nice modification over the European tradition, since more gifts fit into a stocking than in a child’s shoe.

Those stockings hanging over the fireplace are gigantic, not to mention what parents do to supplement it. But in my childhood days in Hungary, we didn’t know anything about the stockings version, or I would have found a big one. We just had our shoes.

Dec. 6 should have been the main day for gift-giving also. Dec. 25 was the celebration of the birth of Christ. But there was always something under the Christmas tree. I knew that those gifts came from my parents. There was no guessing involved.

We didn’t get anything elaborate at either time, though. Back in those days, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union, and St. Nicholas was kind of poor, along with our parents.

The first thing we checked in the morning of Dec. 6 were the shoes. If we were really good, there was even an orange or banana in there, along with some chocolates and candy. But, there were some years when we were just as good, but there weren’t any oranges or bananas to be found anywhere – anywhere in the whole city, that is.

The fruit was valuable and shared by all the children. The adults would not touch them. These are items that are no big deal to us now, and in the West, they were in good supply even back then. But not behind the Iron Curtain; they were hard to find.

After we ate the oranges, the parents put the orange peel on top of the coal burning stove, so we could enjoy them a little longer as aroma dispersed through the room.

St. Nicholas did the best he could back in those days, and we were glad for whatever he left. It wasn’t the value of the gift, but the fact that we got it and could show it to each other. The real gift was the ability to share the event with my cousins, to share the spirit of the holiday.

Those were special times for me as a child, and the essence of the purity of the holidays has stayed with me all these years.

Back then, the simplicity was forced by economic circumstances. Today, now that the kids are grown, it is just the way I like it.