In Europe, St. Nicholas Day Eve or “Nikolaus-Tag Abend” is celebrated on the Eve of December 6th, with a personal visit by St. Nicholas to see the children of the village; derived from the original Saint Nicholas (celebrated in America as Santa Claus) – Nicholas of Myra, the Bishop of Myra in what is now the country of Turkey, who died on December 6th in the year 346; here David holds St. Nicholas’ staff.
The “Nikolaus-Tag” tradition is for St. Nicholas to arrive at the house on the evening of December 5th, and children are to recite a small poem or sing a short song for him; and if the child was good during the past year they receive candy and a few small toys – and if not…they get a small branch or “switch” which encourages the goal of better behavior in the future – and here David’s grandmother or “Oma” offers moral support to David.
St. Nicholas shows David his “big book” with the names of all of the children in it, as well as whether they have been good or not this past year while citing specific examples of a few notable key events – which is a pretty dramatic experience for a small child…especially if they haven’t always been good during the past year.
St. Nicholas explains to David in German that he knows how all the children have been during the past year, and reveals David’s personal rating of “mostly good” – which is a strong motivator for him going into the New Year to stay good.
At times David was uncertain and timid about the entire visit, especially because of the dark figure of “Knecht Ruprecht” standing beside St. Nicholas – which I cropped out of the picture.
The figure of “Knecht Ruprecht” dressed all in black with chains and a sack full of coal and switches, represents punishment for children who misbehaved during the past year – and in the old days children were actually punished…but not today – which can cause real anxiety in children just seeing him standing there.
Today some parents have “Knecht Ruprecht” stand outside the front door and won’t let him enter the home where the children can see him, and the switches that today’s children receive are from a store wrapped in plastic and have small pieces of candy attached to them to soften their figurative impact.
Instead of the traditional boot filled with candy that is left outside the door to put candy and switches into, David received the American version of a Santa gift bag filled with toys, candy and a few “swiches” for good measure wrapped in plastic – as a reward for his “mostly good” behavior over the past year which helped reduce his anxiety completely.
David’s Opa helps him eat a chocolate St. Nicholas, on a day that is very important to celebrate for families with small children during the Advent season – the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
David’s Oma helps him as he opens a door on the Advent calendar to retrieve a small piece of chocolate that was hidden behind it – while holding his beloved “sheep.”
Now that the anxiety of the evening is behind him with his “mostly good” rating from St. Nicholas, David is ready to enjoy the rest of the evening – while playing with a calculator in his hand.
A silly moment with his aunt or “Tante” – putting a pair of socks over his hands – leaves David in a defenseless moment while being tickled on the floor.
Now it’s time to enjoy a little milk and Christmas cookies – vanilla crescents or “Vanillehörnchen – at what is called Coffee and Cake or “Kaffe und Kuchen” – my favorite German culinary tradition! 🙂