It’s coming … St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6-and it is better than Christmas

In our family Czechoslovakian tradition, it is called Mikolas’ Day, and youngsters hang their stockings on Dec. 6 in the hopes that on Dec. 7, they will be filled with candy, pastries, dried fruits and nuts, and little stocking stuffers. To be avoided are lumps of coal and onions, as they are a sign that St. Nich, the usually kindly Mikolas, is displeased with a child’s behavior.

No matter how good I always thought I was, I always got some coal and onions. Onions became more prevalent as coal-powered train locomotives were eased out of service for cleaner, more ecologically friendly engines. Once the coal belchers were gone, the little pieces of coal left behind amidst the rail ties were gone, and so was my parents’ supply for holiday stockings.

It is getting tougher to get the pernicky, the firm gingerbread cookies with pictures of St. Nich or children or some other Christmas entity glued on with a hard-setting frosting every bit as good as Super Glue. Eating parts of the paper were similar to what one went through with sugar dots, the penny candy that was poured on paper. It was all part of the fun of eating the pernicky. It must not have been too terrible, because there are still quite a few of us Mikolas supporters around unscathed.

The pernicky used to be genuine stocking stuffers as they would take up room in a stocking, filling it faster and fuller than it really was. It saved parents some money. Now, pernicky are as expensive as many other ethnic goodies, so there are not as prominent a feature in the Mikolas stockings.

Most kids don’t like dried fruit too much, but there always had to be a circle of dried figs in the stocking. Of all the possibilities of dried fruit, figs presented themselves as the most tolerable. Actually, one could develop a taste for the seedy little fruits. And, although it would have been a bit difficult to put varieties of other dried fruits into a stocking, a Seguin Services fruitcake was just the right size to fit down the tunnel of a stocking. Our family was always supportive of Seguin, which helps developmentally disabled people, so we ate lots of Seguin fruitcake to the point that I am still a fruitcake fancier.

In what is now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Holland and other European countries, St. Nicholas lives up to his bishop’s background, unlike his American evolution to Santa Claus. Someone would dress as the bishop and have with him people dressed as an angel and a devil. Rather than fill stockings, shoes were put out on St. Nicholas Eve so that they might be filled with goodies. If, perchance, a child were in the area, it was either the angel or the devil’s project to handle the meeting. To be fussed over by the angel was great; to have the devil go after one was apparently not pleasant.

And so, Mikolas became Santa Claus, and we all get to extol the mystical elf who now faces weight and cholesterol problems with the rest of us. The little ones will still believe that he comes down the chimney and brings presents to good children worldwide, even if a house does not have a chimney. Ours did not have one and, as a child, I fretted about the problem until my mother and father assured me that Santa could use doors every bit as easily as the next elf.

Christmas was always a stressful, slapdash event at our house, because my parents had the real estate business to deal with plus 5,000 handwritten cars my mother insisted on sending out, which embroiled the whole family. Now I find myself in similar straits, trying to get a mailing list of 35,000 down to something reasonable. So, you might get a card … and then, you might not, if I just throw in the towel.

I look forward to seeing many of you around as we go to our overload of Christmas parties and open houses.

So, remember, there will be dieting ahead if we pile on the anticipated five pounds. And, when it comes to leaving cookies and milk for Santa, aka Mikolas, well, put out some Jenny Craig.