Jolly Old St. Nicholas

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in Germany and the Netherlands. The weather was pleasantly Christmassy, cold with a light dusting of snow, and I celebrated in style by baking yet more Christmas cookies.

As dusk fell – which in December happens around 4 PM in North Germany – the so-called “Nikolausläufer”, children dressed up as St, Nicholas who go from house to house, sing a song or recite a poem and get a treat in return, began to arrive. I go it bit deeper into this tradition in this post from 2010.

Because the weather was nice, 2012 was a good year for Nikolausläufer. I got 21 kids on my doorstep, from toddlers to teen boys stuck in the middle of the puberty voice change (being a cruel person, I made them sing for their treat). Since I only bought 20 Kinder Surprise Eggs, that meant that one kid had to make do with two bars of Ritter Sport mini chocolates and a bag of gummy bears I found in the cellar. No idea where it came from – I never buy gummy bears, cause I’m allergic.

Interestingly, the gender balance in my neighbourhood seems to have shifted from lots of little boys to lots of little girls. At any rate, I got a lot more girls than boys on my doorstep. So the “pretty in pink” eggs were not such a bad idea after all – in fact, they went faster than the regular edition.

There probably would have been more Nikolausläufer, but at quarter to seven in the evening I had to leave to go to the monthly translators’ meet-up at Leo’s restaurant. I had a rather seasonal filet of deer, served with red cabbage, potato dumplings and chestnut sauce.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day is mainly a German and Dutch tradition, but the tradition also survived in Pennsylvania among the descendants of German settlers, though St Nicholas is called Belsnickel there. Kathleen Valentine shares some of her childhood memories of St. Nicholas Day on her blog. There’s also a follow-up post, in which I’m quoted. She has also written a lovely St Nicholas day themed novella called The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood. It’s not just the perfect holiday read for the day, but also free at Amazon at the moment, so get yourself a copy.

In other news, Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who built Brasília, the UN headquarters in New York, the Serpentine Gallery in London and many other world famous buildings, died today just a few days short of his 105th birthday. Until very recently, he was still working as an architect, too. The Guardian has an image gallery of some of his works. I was never the biggest fan of modernist architecture, but Niemeyer’s work I always liked. His buildings have the sweeping futuristic look of golden age SF cover or a Bond villain’s HQ.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jolly Old St. Nicholas

  1. Thank you for the kind words, Cora! Your knowledge of this tradition has contributed so much to my writing about it. I love that kids in your town trick-or-treat on St. Nicholas Day. Great post.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for your great posts. I always find it fascinating how some traditions manage to last across centuries and continents.

      It’s also interesting that there is a tradition of kids going from house to house and asking for treats in the fall/winter in many places. The US has Halloween, which is getting more popular in Germany, in North Germany we have St. Nicholas Day and in other parts of Germany, children go trick or treating on St. Martin’s Day/Martinsmas (November 11).

  2. Pingback: Halloween and American Traditions in Germany | Cora Buhlert

  3. Pingback: Storm Xaver Update | Cora Buhlert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *