I remember reading a children's book when I was little about how different countries of the world celebrated Christmas. The illustrations showed drawings of little boys and little girls in their native garb holding a symbol of their way of celebrating (a synechdoche, if you will). In my heart of hearts, those pictures have continued to come to mind when I hear again of those traditions. If I close my eyes, I can still see the German child holding her leather shoe filled with fruit and candy. She's wearing a red skirt with little flowers and over it a white apron. I see her blonde hair and shy smile.
Tuesday night, Gena and I were beginning our four-flight trudge up to our apartment to have a quiet cup of decaf and enjoy the stretchings of the cat and the twinklings of our small Christmas tree. Gena stopped on the first landing and said, "Oh! Look!" Two small pairs of shoes were in the stairwell outside our landlord's door. They each had an orange, a wrapped gift, and a treat bag. "St. Nikolaus has been here..." Gena and I giggled. "Oh, I have to take a picture!" I whispered.
Alex and Katharina, our landlord's children, in the tradition that has gone hundreds of years before them, put their shoes out on Dec 5 for St. Nikolaus. Huh, I thought. They're not old leather shoes with woolly tops . . . they're tennis shoes and fun bright Euro-school shoes. And an image of Katharina's bright pink pants replaced the red skirt of my memories.