The adventures of a born-and-raised-in-Michigan girl (OK, woman) who's moved to Bavaria with her husband, kids, and dog.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

St. Nikolaus Day 2006 Report

Another "Saint Day" has arrived. This one, St. Nikolaus, I believe we are all pretty familiar with... except I've learned a few things about the German St. Nick:
  • He wears a bishop's hat and robes, and carries a staff, a sack of goodies, and a book of good and bad deeds done by the children over the year (sound familiar?).

  • He leaves fruit, nuts, candy, etc. (cookies at our house) in the shoes of children that were laid out the night before (Dec. 5), to be discovered the next morning (similar to stockings, except only food-related, it seems).

  • He lives in Heaven, not the North Pole, and descends once a year for the day (Dec. 6) to visit children (and their shoes).

  • It is very common here to have "house calls" made by St. Nikolaus, either with or without his sidekick, Black Peter (Knecht Ruprecht). Costumes can be found cheap, and people rent themselves out for the two evenings (5th and 6th) or do it as a favor for friends and make the rounds in their social circle.

  • Black Peter is quite the character... traditionally he looks like something between a scraggly beggar hunchback and Death (with a large hood and beard obscuring the face). He carries a switch made of twigs, presumably to beat naughty children with, and also has an empty sack, should any of the really naughty ones need to be removed altogether. (This is explained to older children, not preschoolers, of course.) In Bavaria and Austria he is known as "Krampus" instead, but it's the same guy. Apparently (per Wikipedia), remnants of this tradition are still present in the character "Belsnickel" in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

So, in our little world, while Nicholas was at Kindergarten on the 5th, St. Nikolaus had time to stop into our little morning playgroup and visit Stephanie and her friends. Some of the "big boys" cried, but not Stephanie... she was quiet and curious, and listened to the listing of behaviors done by herself and her friends (St. Nikolaus was prepped by all of us the day before, so he could create his all-knowing book).

Then at 5:00 p.m. we went over to a friend's house, where St. Nikolaus and Ruprecht stopped by... thankfully Ruprecht stayed very much in the background and nobody was frightened. Stephanie sat on our hostess' knee so I could take some photos:

Nicholas was a good sport about it too, and he didn't seem too surprised afterwards that St. Nikolaus knew all the details of his daily life (from taking walks with Daddy and the dog to reading books, listening to music, playing with trains, etc.). He took his turn holding the staff and listening to the little speech in exchange for his bag of goodies, pulled from St. Nikolaus' bag.

Back home, we put out Dad's boots for Saint Nikolaus' visit to our house, and then went to bed. In the morning, it was time to retrieve the treats and have a really unhealthy breakfast before heading off to Kindergarten.

At Kindergarten on the 6th, Saint Nikolaus found time in his busy schedule to visit the whole group (without Ruprecht) and bestow kindness and goodies on the Kindergarteners. The original plan was that the classes would take a walk in the woods and St. Nick would just happen upon them, but enough rain and mud overnight, and Plan B was put into action instead. Nicholas was very interested in looking for him, as I had hinted that if he tried he might find him today, still walking around delivering goodies in childrens' shoes. I picked him up with chocolate spread from cheek to cheek and another goodie bag in tow.

And that is how Saint Nikolaus Day is done in Bavaria.

A different character, either the elusive Christkind (Christ Child), an invention of Martin Luther to combat the Catholic Church and the entrenched St. Nikolaus; or Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man), a modern invention who looks amazingly just like the American Santa Claus, will deliver gifts to your house during the evening of the 24th (not overnight, and not on the 25th).

So globalization (or maybe just Hollywood influence?) has affected the Christmas icons as well. For our mixed household, it is easy enough to distinguish between the two, as one arrives on December 5th/6th, and one on the 24th/25th.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


We enjoyed learning of the St. Nicholas traditions. The photos were the best, and they were worth a thousand words.

Give Nicholas and Stephanie hugs for us.

Uncle Peter and Aunt Regina

4:42 PM


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