Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Nikolaus

December 6th is Nikolaus day in Germany, a tradition that comes very close to the North American Christmas. The evening before Nikolaus, children put a boot in front of the door. If they were good children in the past year, they will find the boot filled with goodies the next morning. Parents shamelessly use the occasion to demand that every single shoe in the household has to be cleaned.


Unlike cheerful Santa Claus however, Nikolaus comes with a dark companion, called Knecht Ruprecht. Knecht Ruprecht doesn't wear red and white, but black and brown, and he carries with him a rod and a sack. If you haven't been a good kid, or didn't convincingly clean your stupid boots, you'll get hit with the rod. If you really messed it up (say, by writing silly comments on other people's blogs), you'll get packed in the sack and carried away to his home in the black forest.

Well, yes, that's not politically correct, but that's how the story goes. Another thing that is probably politically incorrect is how my granny used to tell the story. In her version, the evil Knecht Ruprecht wasn't from the black forest, but was actually black and from Africa. If you want to see what Knecht Ruprecht allegedly looks like, check the Wikipedia entry Companions of Saint Nicholaus. Then have another look at your boots, and reconsider if you really think they are clean enough.

Though the origin of the European Knecht Ruprecht tradition is kind of unclear, Saint Nicholas goes back to a real person. Saint Nicholas lived in the 4th century, when he was bishop of Myra, which is today Demre in the Antalya province of Turkey. Saint Nicholaus had a reputation for secret gift-giving (though I wonder how secret it can have been if he had a reputation for it).

Saint Nicholaus is also the patron saint of sailors.

Have a wonderful Christmas season, and keep your boots clean!

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9 comments:

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

what a heartening post :-).. When I came home tonight, I thought, oh, it's Nikolausabend, I should put my boots in front of the door ;-). Nikolaus is a really beautiful tradition.

By chance, when I was at my mother's place this weekend, we had visit from my aunt and uncle who live in the Netherlands. We talked also about Nikolaus, and my aunt told us that Nikolaus, or Sinterklaas as he is called in Dutch, used to bring gifts and toys to the children, and that there were no presents at christmas - all gifts were brought by Sinterklaas on Nikolaus eve. To see the Dutch kids, Nikolaus comes by ship from Spain, for some reason, and he is accompanied by the Zwarte Piet, who is definitely politically incorrect ;-). Funny thing, I was once in February in a small town in Friesland called Grouw, and completely puzzled because of all the christmas decoration and photos of Sinterklaas around. There was the local story that Sinterklaas had forgotten the gifts for the kids of Grouw, so he had to sail back to Spain, and the poor kids had to wait until February for their presents...

My mother told me the quite crazy story that Nikolaus is now buried in Bari in Italy, where his remainings were brought (stolen is more appropriate) by the locals to foster tourism (then called pilgrimage). But his thumb is not in Bari either, because some poeple in Lorraine in France wanted also their share of regional development, and so it can now be found in Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, a small town of next to Nancy, with a disproportional big church. But that are not the stories one should tell to childern ;-)...

Best, stefan

Arun said...

Well, did you get any good stuff in your boots?
:-)

Anonymous said...

Leave it to North Americans to sugar-coat everything.

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

No, sadly enough, I didn't find anything in my boots :-( But at least they were worth the money invested, we had serious snowfall over night. Maybe I just wasn't a good girl. At least I'll be home for
Christmas this year :-)

Dear Anonymous,

I think I'll take your advice and leave it to the North Americans to sugar coat my life - some do so quite well :-)

Best,

B.

PS: Anybody knows why Americans have an obsession with coloring their sweets? They look like toys, not like something to eat!

Uncle Al said...

Better Knecht Ruprecht than Klaubauf, Krampus, or Bartel.

A child who is toughened to both beauty and ugly will become a more functional adult than one kept asceptically clean. At night the sewers eructate; in day every legislature so too. Christmas is the season of the Big Lie in so many ways.

CarlBrannen said...

Children have more reasons to be good in the Netherlands. Their parents can buy those delicious Speculaas cookies.

Rae Ann said...

The anonymous commenter doesn't know so much about North American traditions. There are many regional stories and traditions in America that incorporate punishment for the bad kids. Growing up my mom used to tell us that Santa had little elves that were always watching us (might explain my tendency for paranoia ;-) ) so Santa would know who was good or bad. If we were bad, not only would we not receive any goodies, but the elves would trick us and otherwise be mean to us. Call that sugar-coating if you must, but it scared me enough as a child to keep me from being bad.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Gruesse aus Deutschland ! Tolle Seite, werde demnächst öfter mal vorbeischauen.

Anonymous said...

These comments fail to mention the contribution of Coca Cola to the reddishness of Santa Claus. See

http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/santa.asp