by CHRIS ROGERS
His fearsome, Krampus-like companion didn’t show up to give switches to the naughty kids, but Rollingstone Community School students got a taste last week of how Luxembourgers greet Saint Nicholas.
Many of Rollingstone’s first European-American settlers were immigrants from the small country of Luxembourg. The town is still full of their descendants, and local groups take special efforts to keep Luxembourg traditions alive. Saint Nicholas is a big one. The 4th century bishop of a province in what is today Turkey is celebrated across many countries, and in Luxembourg, children leave their slippers out each night during the first week of December to be filled with sweets and toys by the wandering saint.
Last week, when Luxembourg-American heritage enthusiast Mary Nilles explained to a gym full of grade school students how families leave out food for Saint Nicholas while he travels around delivering treats, one boy piped up, “Like Santa Claus!”
“Like an older Santa Claus,” Nilles responded. Saint Nicholas is considered to be the forerunner of Santa Claus, but they are not the same thing. Saint Nicholas comes the night before December 6. He rides a donkey, not a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer. He wears a bishop’s pointy red hat, not a droopy one, and carries a bishop’s shepherd’s crook.
“He’s probably Santa Claus’ brother,” the boy concluded.
“I think it’s interesting because Christmas is kind of like it but different,” student Greta Larson said after Nilles’ lesson.
“I like the shoe part about it,” Rollingstone student Addyson Speltz said of Saint Nicholas Day. Fellow student Miranda Thill did “the shoe thing” in religion class. “It was really, really fun,” she said.
“I like Saint Nicholas Day because we got to talk about how, in the past, people celebrated different things, and we still celebrate it,” young Kallan Pehler said.
That is what Nilles and her fellow Saint Nicholas Society Volunteer Group members are hoping students will glean. “We do the best we can do to keep it alive,” Nilles said of Saint Nicholas Day. “We think its a tradition that can evolve and still speaks to people,” she added. The group donates treats — including lots of fruit, in an effort to promote healthy eating — for the Saint Nicholas Day celebration at the school every year, and even sends photographs from the event to Luxembourg. “Oh yes, we always keep in touch,” Nilles said.
About an eighth of the children raised their hands when asked if they put out shoes for Saint Nicholas. It was all new for Naser Adosari and his little brother, Bakheet. “We didn’t do Christmas,” Bakheet said, clutching a bag of treats and talking about how, in Saudi Arabia, people ate lamb at holidays. “I didn’t do anything [for Saint Nicholas Day] when we lived in Saudi Arabia,” Naser added. “It’s exciting.”
“In some schools, I don’t think we could do this,” Rollingstone Community School Principal Dawn Lueck said. The value of the event, Lueck added, is “to keep the traditions of the community going and so that the kids understand those traditions.”
Dorothy Stoos and her middle-aged daughters have handed out treats at the school’s Saint Nicholas Day celebration for years. Stoos recalled celebrating the holiday as a girl, and spoke about how, these days, she appreciates getting to see the school children. “I really enjoy it when it does come up,” she said.