Tonight Nikolaus was in da house.
In Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside the front door on the night of December 5 to December 6. St. Nikolaus then fills the boot with gifts, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good. If they were not, they will have a tree branch ("Rute") in their boots instead.
But for many children, Nikolaus also meant fear. He is often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (kinda like Santa’s little helper), who would threaten to beat the children for misbehavior. Funnily enough in Bavaria Knecht Ruprecht is called Krampus and in Switzerland he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the Black Forest.
In other accounts he would throw the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children. Though these traditions were implemented more rigidly in Catholic countries such as Austria or Bavaria. In highly Catholic regions, the local priest was informed by the parents about their children's behavior and would then personally visit the homes in the traditional Christian garment and threaten to beat them with a rod.
Does this strike anyone else as really violent? Okay nowadays it is really only about filling the boots with sweets and little presents and it was so cute this morning to go downstairs and see the little boots in front of our neighbor’s door filled with goodies.
It brought me right back to my childhood, when I asked my Mom if I can polish my boots and I did so with full vigor. Then I had to put my pair of boots out the door and went to bed. I could hardly contain my excitement and I never wanted to go to sleep but I could not stay awake either. So I never caught Nikolaus in the act. The next morning was usually great fun when I got to see what Nikolaus left for me. My parents always made sure to find something small that was a surprise and they continued to do so until I moved out. I love them for keeping up this tradition.
Happy St. Nicholas Day everyone.