Here in Germany on December 6th we celebrated Nikolaustag, a tradition where children set out shoes to be filled by St. Nikolaus. I thought it would be interesting to take you with me through the preparation and what I ultimately discovered in my own shoes.
On the eve of Nikolaustag, my host brothers and I searched for our hiking boots. They explained to me that you should take the biggest shoes you have so St. Nikolaus has more space to fill. Then, as is common practice, we began cleaning our shoes. Brushing of the dirt and disinfecting the soles. It is tradition for children to do this as a sign of respect for St. Nikolaus and to show that they worked to be rewarded. Next we lined up our shoes by the front door and went to sleep, hoping that St. Nikolaus would come. If you look at the photographs at the top of this post, mine are tucked in the middle between my host brothers'.
When we woke up on the morning of December 6th, we ran down the stairs to check our shoes. And St. Nikolaus did not dissapoint. Our shoes were filled to the brim with sweets and little trinkets. Some of my favorite additions were a music box that played "Silent Night" and very sturdy hiking socks that couldn't have come at a better time as my host family and I are going to be hiking in the Alps over Christmas break. St. Nikolaus always knows! Although I have a sneaking suspicion that he had some help from my host parents.
I am so grateful for the gifts I recieved and for my host family for sharing the traditions of Nikolaustag with me. And for St. Nikolaus for taking extra time to fill the shoes of the American girl living in Lehrte. It really was a special day and a reminder how lucky I am to fully experience another culture.
I think that as exchange students, we can feel like we have big shoes to fill (pun intended) and often feel a sense of imposter syndrome, asking ourselves how we are qualified to face the challenges that come with exchange? But days like Nikolaustag remind us that we are recognized as a part of our host communities and should do the same for ourselves. Something I have learned from exchange is that my biggest crtitic lives inside my own head and not only am I a functioning member of Germany society (I have my residence permit to prove it!) but I am worthy of having my shoes filled with sweets and trinkets from those around me, literally and figuratively. I hope to hold onto this lesson long after my 10 months in Germany and to continue being grateful for the hard moments as they teach me how to appreciate the good ones in full.