Tag Archives: Nikolaus

Nikolaus was here

“Why don’t we celebrate Nikolaus too”, I whined. This first-grader had discovered that her German friends were leaving boots in front of their bedroom doors at night, expecting to find them filled with treats on the morning of the 6th of December. It was 1970 and my entry into real time with Germans was widening my perception of the world and of gift-receiving opportunities.


My Mum sighed. With an 8-month old on her hands, two more daughters entering puberty, all she needed was number three whining.


“Oh, all right, put out your boot and we will see what happens.”


In Germany you say “Wenn zwei sich streiten, dann freut sich der dritte” (When two are arguing, the third one will be happy). I owe a lot of my happy childhood to the fact that my bigger sisters had tired my parents out by the time I came around and it was all “if it stops her from making noise give her what she asks for”. Of course I had to be careful not to exaggerate, but number three is usually surrounded by so much, be it hand-me downs, that asking for your very own was the exception (at least in my mind).


So I placed the boot in front of my bedroom door and went to bed content. Next morning had me hot footing straight to the boot. But what was this? I cried out in despair. The children had told me that naughty kids received a “Rute”, a bunch of twigs tied together that could clear dusty chambers but also served to touch up the hide of a naughty child. And my boot contained such a bunch of twigs.


Had I been naughty? Was I being punished? The idea of a possible hiding shocked me. My parents never hit me. A desperate wail brought my Mum rushing to my side.


“Now what.”  


“Mummy, I received a Rute. Was I naughty? Only bad children receive a Rute”, I bubbled.


My mothers face became inscrutable as the wheels of her mind geared to top speed and added up all the symbolic weight of the world for a six year old. A split second had passed when she raised an eyebrow near imperceptibly.


Next she interpreted for me very patiently.


“Francesca, look at what is hanging on the bits of twigs. Do you see all the shiny wrappings? They must be full of chocolate. Looks like Nikolaus just uses the twigs to hang up the sweets in.”


“Really?” I looked at the ominous Rute more closely. True, there were lots of small packages tied to it.




I wrapped my mind around this contradictory message. With the help of a few wrapped chocolates I was consoled and accepted this, to my now adult mind, illogical concept.


Much later Nikolaus became the day I received gifts from the Church for my service as choir member and mass servant. The choir conductor dressed up as Nikolaus and arrived with a big book from which he read about our good and bad deeds. It was funny, as he took the opportunity to recount our various exploits, which we did not always want to be reminded of and because he looked quite ridiculous in his outfit. After we received our presents we sat down to hot drinks, cakes and Christmas cookies. It was a way of thanking us for our contributions in time and patience to church and the only way to tell how much we were being thanked was by the size of the present we had received. Nobody was being punished: after all, whatever we gave was voluntary.


When my children met Nikolaus in Kindergarten on a 6th of December, they looked forward to his visit. He gave a little bag of sweets, dried fruits and small toys to every one of them. Sometimes local shops dress up an employee and he gives away oranges, walnuts and a ball for every child that passes by. There are no more books with all your “sins” noted. But not all children are entirely at their ease. Would their parents be of my generation, who still believed that Nikolaus actually would punish us?


On that December 6th of 1970 my mother probably was questioning the need for integration of another peoples tradition into ones own, at all cost, very much.


And I never put the boot out again. Just in case.




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Save the Nikolaus – or better not?

“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.


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