Sankt Nikolaus

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in Germany, which is one of the most distinctive children's festival of the year. On the evening before the 6th, children place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door in the hope that Sankt Nikolaus might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, sweets toys and other little gifts. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will be fulfilled. Children who have caused mischief will receive only coal or a switch, which symbolizes punishment for their bad deeds.

Nikolaus was born in Patara, a city of Licia in Asia Minor (part of modern day Turkey), around 255-257 A.D., and died on December 6,343. Little is know about his background, except that he came from an affluent family. When he was still a young man, Nikolaus heard of an honorable family who had fallen into poverty. The father had three young daughters, who were unable to marry because their father
was too poor to offer a dowry. In desperation, the father resolved to deliver his
daughters to a brothel.

When Nicholas heard of their plight, he came up with a scheme to assist this family.
According to legend,the young Nikolaus tossed three packets of money through their window one night. This money was sufficient to pay for the dowry of the three
daughters. The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas morning stems from Nikolaus' act of charity.

Through stories and legends associated with him, he became known as the protector of children and the bestower of gifts upon them. Over the anonymous
centuries.the life and deeds of St. Nikolaus were celebrated the 6th of December. By the Middle Ages, the observance become a celebration of children and a day on which they received gifts. It was Martin Luther who sought to sever the connection
between the saint and the gift giving celebration for children, because in his Reformation theology, there was no place for the glorification of saints. Rather
than abolishing the custom outright, Martin Luther replaced the persona of Nikolaus with that of the Christ child in his teachings, not Nikolaus, but rather now the baby Jesus, was attributed with bringing the children gifts, and not on the saint's day but at Christmas.

The supporters of the Catholic Counterreformation did not quietly accept the diminishment of their saint.They responded by making Nilolaus a figure who visited families' homes on his appointed day and stood in judgment over children. Knecht
Ruprecht is a servant and helper whose face is sooty from going down chimneys to leave children's treats. He carries the sack of presents slung over his shoulder and a
rod for disobedient children. "Just wait until Knecht Ruprecht comes" is still a common warning in German homes as some children are threatened with being
hauled off in Ruprecht's sack.

In Germany Knecht Ruprecht comes in many forms: Krampus in Southern Germany, Pelzebock or Pelznickel in the North-West, Hans Muff in Rhineland. Bartel
or the Wild Bear in Silesia, Gumphinkel with a bear in Hesse. Black Pit close to the Dutch border or Schmutzli in German-speaking Switzerland.

Article by Darlene Fuchs in "German-American Journal December '08/January '09"

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