by Julia Buckley
St. Nicholas came last night. Did he visit you? My boys are too old for him, really, but he kindly fills their boots anyway (and those are some jumbo boots these days).
He is the spirit of generosity that heralds the holidays, and he is a part of my tradition. My German mother ushered him into our lives, and we always woke to boots full of big brown walnuts and huge red apples, as well as little German chocolates, marzipan and tiny gifties. In thirty years St. Nick hasn't changed all that much, although some of the wee toys are quite techno and modern.
I'm not the only one to cling to my St. Nicholas tradition; today at the high school where I teach, the students will take five minutes of second period to place one shoe in the hall; then, during that class period (which they must spend with one foot unshod), the student council elves (sent by St. Nick, of course) will come and fill those shoes with candy.
St. Nicholas is considered a sort of distant cousin to Santa Claus, and his arrival in early December coincides with the celebration of Advent. He is the promise of good things to come.
As a mystery writer and someone who thinks a lot about crime, I was always surprised that neither St. Nick nor Santa Claus's visits bothered my children at all when they were young. After all, these were old guys in strange costumes who basically broke into our house in the middle of the night. But the word "presents" magically cancels out any suspicion or fear, as it did for me when I was young.
So as I write this, despite the fact that my sons are sixteen and twelve, I am about to leave for the store where they sell chocolate coins and stocking stuffers (which can also stuff boots). If there's one thing I hope my children never grow out of, it's a good tradition or two.
Meanwhile, I wonder if a mystery has ever been set on St. Nicholas night . . . .