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Applause for Niklaus- a chocolatey tale of kindness

Perhaps like some of you I (like to) go to the gym. ‘Like’ may be too strong a word. I wouldn’t call it a pleasure. More of a necessary, but temporary, inconvenience. It keeps my aging back in shape (not to be underestimated when you’re a face painter) and it makes me feel just a little smug for the rest of the day, knowing that I’m doing something positive to keep the cobwebs at bay.

A few weeks-ago I was glad I went to the gym for another reason. I witnessed something that warmed the cockles of my heart and reminded me of the wonders of the human psyche.

But first, here’s what you need to know. The 6th December is a special day for children in Germany (as in other parts of Europe). It is called ‘Niklaustag’ (translated as ‘Niklaus’ Day’, or ‘the day that Niklaus is celebrated’). Niklaus is a historical and somewhat mysterious, yet holy, figure. He is thought to originally have been (though no one knows for sure) a well-respected Bishop hundreds of years ago. He was revered for his kindness, especially towards children and the poor. And he is thought to have died on 6th December. Such was his renown that even now he is remembered and celebrated. Every year on the evening of the 5th December children clean and polish their winter boots and place them outside on the doorstep in the hope that the spirit of Niklaus visits during the night to fill their boots with chocolate, nuts and small toys. He rarely lets anyone down. And so, children across the continent awake on the 6th full of excitement, hoping to find wonderful treats which are sure to keep them fired up for the rest of the day (if they eat them all before breakfast like my kids do).

It so happened that at 8am on the 6th December 2019 I arrived (slightly grumpily I must admit) at my gym. At the reception desk I checked in as usual, and as usual I was given my locker key. As usual I thanked them and turned to head off, without great enthusiasm, towards the changing rooms. But unusually the attendant called me back, saying that I’d forgotten something- my 'Niklaus' present- a small, chocolate figure wrapped in brightly-coloured foil, exactly like the ones that my kids found in their boots in the early hours of the morning . It made me smile. A gift of chocolate before 9am has a way of improving my whole outlook on the day like few other things can! I continued on my way to the changing rooms with a little spring in my step. I got changed and made my way towards the weight machines.

Let me introduce you to Berta. Berta is a slightly-built, but sprightly, lady in her 80’s. I see her regularly at the early morning gym sessions and although quiet and reserved she always has a smile ready for familiar faces. Normally, she diligently gets on with her routine, but today it was different. She was noticeably agitated, was not concentrating on her fitness but instead was almost skipping around between acquaintances, telling them her burning news. Today, for the first time in her life she had received a gift from Niklaus. And from here at the gym, of all places! I could hear her say over and over again, ‘I just can’t believe it. Isn’t it wonderful! I can’t believe it!’ She had been deeply moved and it was pure joy to watch.

It made such an impression on me that I wrote a blog post about it.

Do not underestimate the power of small acts of kindness, or thoughtful gifts, however insignificant they may seem to you at the time. A Small gesture can make a huge difference to someone’s day.

Rosie Lieberman is a professional face and body painter in Leipzig, Germany. With her company Fine Lines Face and Body Art she specializes in high-quality artistry for English-speaking special events.

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