My family did not observe St. Nicholas Day as I was growing up, even though my mother, who was born and raised in Germany, observed it as a child while she was growing up. For her, the day was one of fear, as St. Nicholas himself walked around the neighborhood with a big sack, knocking on doors and asking parents if the children had been good. If the parents said the children had been good, St. Nicholas handed the children a treat, but if a child had been bad, St. Nicholas threatened to stuff that child into his sack and take him/her away. My mom and my uncle hid under the table, clutching each other in terror, when St. Nicholas came knocking on the door. They didn't care about the possibility of a treat when the threat of being hauled away from home loomed large! With those horrible memories of St. Nicholas Day, my mom chose to ignore the day altogether when my sisters and I were little.
When I had my own children, I wanted to make the holiday season a season, not just a big blur of preparation for one day of Christmas, and observing St. Nicholas Day traditions, the fun St. Nicholas Day traditions, was a perfect way to do that. When my son was two, we put his shoes outside his bedroom door on the evening of Dec. 5th, and in the morning he was very surprised to find a shortbread cookie inside his shoe! He told everyone he saw that day about the cookie in his shoe. And so our new tradition was born.
For the first few years, the kids found just small food treats in their shoes, and nothing else. Back in those days, I made a handmade ornament for them every year, something that reflected their current interests. This was very easy to do when the interests were things like trains and firetrucks.
But then suddenly the interests of the day were Buzz Lightyear, or Clone Troopers, or Superman. I may be crafty, but ornaments like that were beyond my means! One year I decided to spare myself the insanity, and I handed the ornament responsibility over to St. Nicholas. He did not disappoint!
My daughter always finds something cute that reflects her current interests, too. She got this Crayola snowman when she was three, because crayons were indeed her favorite toy that year.