“Did you know there is an initiative to save the St. Nikolaus by declaring Santa Claus free zones?” I asked Francesca increduously. “They even have papersheets where you can cut out a Nikolaus to pull it over a chocolate Santa Claus. (http://www.weihnachtsmannfreie-zone.de). St. Nikolaus was a Saint, they argue, who was canonized because of all the good deeds he did as a Bishop, while Santa Claus was invented as a marketing tool.
Contrary to this argument I ´m much in favor of a Nikolaus free zone instead. The St. Nikolaus I recall from my childhood was a horrifying figure. On the eve of Dezember 6th, he would come out of the dark into our house wearing a golden mitra and a golden book in his hands, where he had listed all the sin we kids had commited over the year. He hid his face behind behind a white long beard. His voice was deep and filled us children with awe.
I dreaded the moment when he would ask “Have you been a good child this year?” What should I tell him? What terrible thing would happen if I answered “Yes, of course” and he then found a sin in his book I had comitted but already forgotten? What if I said “No”, thus eventually missing the chance that my sins had passed unnoticed? I can´t remember what I answered, but I recall him the reading all my misdeeds out of the book. While I stood alone in front of him to listen, I hardly dared to look a the figure standing behind him: Knecht Ruprecht, the Darth Vader of my childhood. His face was blackened with coal to conceal his features and he wore a black cloak. Out of a big sack over his shoulder “Ruten” (switches) were sticking. Knecht Ruprecht never talked but was always there, the taciturn henchman lurking behind the judge. Would he carry me away in his dirty sack or just spank me with his switch?
Every year I managed to forget that of course we never got spanked or were thrown into the sack, but were presented – after the trial- with oranges, dried fruit and nuts, rare treats.
Later, luckily, St. Niklaus became invisible. He delivered his goods in the early hours of December the 6th into boots we children put in front of the door. The evening before, my siblings and I would hunt for the biggest boots in the house, usually my fathers rambling shoes. A chocolate Nikolaus and a Nikolaus bun replaced the fruits and nuts. In those days I was absolutely fascinated by the glimmering gold foil of the chocolate Nikolaus and never dared to open it. Instead, I put the Niklaus on my bookshelf and looked at it longingly. Sometimes I saved it for a year. When I finally ate it, the chocolate had turned white and stale.
Today, the Niklaus has become Santa Claus, a jolly old guy with red cheeks and a benevolent smile on his lips. For my son, Nikolaus is just another chance to get a bag of jelly beans. For me its a chance to get a chocolate Santa Claus at work which I eat instantly.
This year I even silently hoped Santa Claus would deliver one of the “Konsumschecks” the governement is discussing at the moment into my boot. The idea is to give 500 Euro to everybody to kickstart consumption and thus give the economy a push. As this would mean a handout of 40 billion Euros, naturally they try to back out. At the moment, the discussion centers around the question “Who is everybody?”, every Jane and Joe Doe? Oskar und Erika Mustermann? Or are there special everybodies?
“Give them to those who are experienced money spenders”, I would tell them, if they asked me. On a greater scale, this would mean to give the money to the banks -which has already happened. On a more personal scale, they should give the money to me and not to my moneysaving spouse. I have a lot of ideas how to spend 1000 Euro in one day effectively.
But this would be another story.