Most Americans are familiar with the Christmas custom of hanging up a STOCKING by the fireplace for SANTA CLAUS to fill with GIFTS. In some countries, however, people use shoes or boots rather than stockings as gift receptacles.
In Sicily, children leave their shoes outdoors on the eve of ST. LUCY’S DAY, December 13 (see also CHRISTMAS IN ITALY). When the kindly saint passes by during the night, she deposits treats in the shoes, which the children discover the next morning.
In the Netherlands, children put shoes by the fireplace on the eve of ST. NICHOLAS’S DAY, December 6. Dutch children sometimes also leave hay, carrots, or sugar for St. Nicholas’s horse. In the morning they find their shoes filled with presents. German children also receive gifts from ST. NICHOLAS on his feast day. They place their boots by the fireplace, a window, or the bedroom door on the evening of December 5. In the morning they feast on the sweets tucked inside the boots (see also CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY).
In ICELAND the CHRISTMAS LADS fill children’s shoes with candy. Youngsters help the Lads find the shoes by positioning them on a windowsill in the days preceding Christmas. A similar custom takes place in ESTONIA, where young people leave shoes out on a windowsill in the weeks before Christmas and wait for elves to come fill them with treats.
In FRANCE children set their shoes before the fireplace, underneath the CHRISTMAS TREE, or near the NATIVITY SCENE on Christmas Eve. The French gift bringer, Père Noël, fills them with sweets and toys before morning comes.
In SPAIN the Three Kings, or MAGI, stuff children’s shoes with trinkets and sweets on Epiphany, which the Spanish also refer to as Three Kings Day. Spanish children deposit their shoes on the balcony, outside their front door, or near a fireplace on the evening of January 5. Many considerately leave straw for the Magi’s camels as well. The next morning they race to recover trinkets and sweets left inside the shoes. The Three Kings also fill the shoes of Mexican, Brazilian, and Filipino children on Epiphany (see also CHRISTMAS IN BRAZIL; CHRISTMAS IN THE PHILIPPINES). Filipino and Brazilian youngsters put their shoes near a window or door on Epiphany eve and in the morning find them overflowing with sweets and trinkets. In MEXICO children place their shoes near the Nativity scene, or just outside a door or window that they might serve as handy baskets for gifts. They often offer water and straw for the Kings’ camels as well.