December 6th might not mean much in North American customs… but when you are from Europe this is a very special day – it is St. Nikolaus Day. The day we remember the Bishop of Myra (a fourth century saint) who was the friend of the poor. Many legends surround St. Nikolaus. I will stick to the story that was shared with us when I was a child: According to these “facts” St. Nikolaus regularly gathered food and gifts to distribute secretly among the poor at night during his lifetime. This tradition has carried on in various interpretations.
Growing up in Bavaria my family (parents, grandmother, my brother and little sister) would gather in the living room during the early evening of December 5th, St. Nikolaus Eve. Soon we would hear a loud knock on the door and a stately figure, clad in red with a bishop’s miter and staff entered. Behind him one or two little “Krampus”(small creatures dressed in dark clothes, their faces darkened with coal) carrying a small bundle of branches they would hit the floor with to make a frightful noise. This classic portrayal of good vs. evil still resonates with me today. The Krampus never touched us but just the suggestion of punishment had us remember our shortcomings for the following weeks… and for years afterwards.
St. Nikolaus always read from a large book to point out our shortcomings, and at the same time praised us for the things we did well. I especially remember my encounter with St. Nikolaus and his dark helper in Grade 1. The focus was that I was much too slow walking home from school (3 km one way) and that my parents were worried. He gently encouraged me to walk a little faster, punctuated by some growling noises from Krampus. Once all the children had received their “critiques” the large burlap sack was opened and each of us received a little bag filled with nuts, oranges and chocolates.
The next day I was home in record time… my parents didn’t expect me this soon. All I could think of was that if I didn’t hurry Krampus would come out from behind one of the trees that lined the riverbank I had to navigate, and scare me half to death… How long ago was this??? 48 years ago – yet it is still vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday! Who knows what shapes us and makes into the adults we become? Punctuality continues to be important to me…
Once we “knew” that St. Nikolaus was a legend, he no longer visited in person. We would wake up on December 6th, finding a sock hung on the bedpost or a boot filled with special treats (nuts, oranges, chocolates – and marzipan!!! My favorite!).
Today we continue to celebrate December 6th in our family. If you have heard of the custom to celebrate your name ( a Catholic tradition) it is the day of honor for anyone whose name was derived from St. Nikolaus/St. Nicholas. Happy Nameday to Colin and Nicole, and anyone else out there whose name is rooted in St. Nicholas. Happy St. Nikolaus Day to all my European friends. Enjoy some marzipan – I know I will!
Thanks for indulging me in this seasonal memory. Today marks the first anniversary of this blog! You have until midnight to leave a comment, “like”, the entry, or sign on as a follower (is you have not done so already!). First thing tomorrow morning I will draw three lucky winners from all the names I have already placed into the draw basket. Best of luck!!!