Christmas is literally days away and we’re all getting into the festive spirit here at Shoe Zone. We’ve had advent calendars, jumpers with snowmen on them and lovingly decorated Christmas trees as standard, but this got us thinking… We have lots of little traditions when it comes to Christmas time, but how many Christmas traditions involve shoes?
So, we did some digging…
Not surprisingly, most traditions relating to Christmas began life in Europe with variations seen across the Americas and other parts of the world. Here we’re going to take a look at some of those traditions and where you might find them…
While not strictly shoes, we couldn’t really talk about traditions in the UK without mentioning Christmas stockings. Almost as important as the Christmas tree itself, stockings play an important role in many households when it comes to gift giving.
It’s customary to hang a (usually personalised) stocking from the fireplace (or bedpost); the stocking is then filled with small treats and trinkets to open on Christmas morning.
The tradition started life in Germanic/Scandinavian countries where children would hang their everyday socks up filled with carrots and straw for the Norse god Odin to feed to his flying horse, Sleipnir. In return, Odin would fill the socks with gifts and sweet treats. Over the years and despite the popularisation of Christianity, the tradition stuck and even spread to other western countries. But these days, it tends to be most popular in the UK and USA and Christmas stockings are more closely associated with jolly old St. Nick.
Famous for its Viking history and unique lifestyle, Iceland has a few festive traditions of its own. One such tradition is that of the The Sheep-Cote Clod, or Yule Lads as they’re affectionately known.
There are thirteen Yule Lads and on the 11th December each year, Icelandic children place their shoes in the window in the hope that each night, one of these mischievous troll-like creatures will come down from the mountains and fill the shoes with pleasant little gifts and treats. This continues each night up until Christmas Eve, the children must however earn the gifts by behaving well and being kind to others… otherwise they run the risk of finding a potato in their shoe instead!
Another one that isn’t strictly shoe-related but we definitely thought it deserved a mention! Every year between the 16th and 24th December, it’s common for many of the Venezuelans living in Caracas, to attend morning mass, however they choose to get there a little differently… via rollerskates!
Many of the streets are closed to cars until 8am, allowing the unconventional pilgrimage to take place. The tradition was thought to have started as a result of difficulties experienced when travelling to morning mass and it has now become an iconic symbol of Christmas time in the capital city. As a result of the festivities, many children will tie a piece of string to their big toe, the end of which is then dangled out of the window. The passing skaters would then tug on any piece of string they found as they passed by, waking the children.
Sticking with South American Christmas traditions, though today many of Brazil’s traditions are similar to those in the USA, they also have some of their own. One such tradition is that of Papai Noel which is the Brazilian version of Santa Claus. Children leave their shoes outside on Christmas Eve in the hope that Papai Noel will fill them with sweet treats to find on Christmas morning.
Taking direct inspiration from the Scandi tradition of leaving gifts for Odin, many in the Netherlands will do the same for Santa Claus (or Sinterklaas as he’s known). Santa Claus is depicted slightly differently to what we know in the UK, with a strong focus on St Nicholas and his heritage with most celebrations based around St Nicholas Eve on the 5th December as opposed to Christmas Day. Dutch tradition suggests that he resides in Spain and travels to Netherlands with his helpers, the “Zwarte Piet” (or “Black Peters” as they would be known in English), by steam boat. He’ll then lead a procession through the towns upon a white horse, giving out gifts along the way.
On the evening that Sinterklaas is due to arrive, children will leave a shoe out by the fireplace or sometimes on a windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs. The hope is that Sinterklaas will leave them some tasty treats in the shoe. They’re told that during the night, Sinterklaas will travel along the roofs on his white horse and a Black Peter will climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents in their shoes.
Much like in the Netherlands, many Czech Christmas traditions centre around St. Nicholas Day too, with Christmas itself a much quieter affair. There is one particular tradition that’s reserved for Christmas Day though and that’s the shoe toss.
Probably more of a superstition, it’s said that if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas Day and the toe points towards the door, you’ll get married soon!
St Nicholas and Shoes
As traditions and the meaning of Christmas vary for many around the world, it’s great to see how different translations are drawn from a similar principle. As we mentioned, many countries celebrate St Nicholas and will commemorate him separately to Christmas, with St. Nicholas Eve and St. Nicholas Day on December 5th-6th. One of the many traditions involves putting “offerings” in shoes which are exchanged for gifts or treats. This practice is popular in many European and Eastern countries, particularly those countries with a strong Catholic following.
The tradition grew from the story of St. Nicholas throwing bags of dowry money either through windows or down chimneys into the homes of impoverished families. This act of goodwill has become the main focus of St. Nicholas Day over the years.
We hope you have a great Christmas this year, why not leave your (clean!) shoes by the fireplace or window? You never know… St. Nick might just fill them with lots of luscious goodies!