Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Nicholaus Eve...don't let Ruprecht get you

Okay, one of my favorite German holiday traditions is the whole Nicholaus thing. He's definitely not Santa and he comes on St. Nicholaus Eve in much of Germany and Austria. That's tonight.

Nicholaus is a tall, skinny guy who dresses like a bishop. He's loosely based on a real person who actually lived in what is now Turkey. On St. Nicholaus Eve, Nicholaus goes around and leaves small treats for the children...and sometimes adults too. In most places, he leaves the treats in shoes left by the door.

He usually has a companion, Knecht Ruprecht, who's not as nice. Ruprecht is a short, dark, dwarflike guy who rattles chains and chases children. He used to be more of a boogeyman than he is today. He used to chase children with switches and whip them for being out... Parents still use him as a threat, even though he's been toned down quite a bit and in some places is just a friendly little helper.

So, in a few hours, little German kids will put their shoes outside the door and hope to awake to find nuts and candies in them tomorrow.

When I was there in Germany a few years ago, I was staying in a friend's apartment on Nicholaus Eve. We went to a holiday party at his athletic club (which is a whole 'nother thing and worthy of a post some time too...) where I learned the wonders of drinking Sekt (first from nice, fluted glasses and later from the bottle) and being a foreign guy in a room full of single girls. Ah ja, das war fantastich...but I digress.

Anyway, when we staggered home, many of the shoes in the hallway had been filled. It was kind of cool, because it was just little stuff. It wasn't about going on a spending spree, just making a nice effort.

Late at night, I heard footsteps outside. One of the neighbors went around and left stuff by the doors of places that didn't have anything.

In the morning, there was a knock on the door. The neighbor downstairs wanted to make sure that 'the American friend' got some fresh baked Stollen because 'it wouldn't be St. Nicholaus without some Stollen.'

Anyway, put your shoes out and lock the doors so Ruprecht doesn't get you...

Cheers.

14 comments:

J├╝rgen Nation said...

Oh, I LOVE other cultures' Christmas traditions. So much better than ours, because of the whole mass-consumption thing. Have you read up on Sinterklaas yet? AAHAH. I don't know if I've spelled it right, but the back story is awesome.

Shawn said...

If you listen closely, you will hear the sound of my little fingers Googling away...

Miranda said...

Maybe that's what I'll name our new cat. Ruprecht has a cutish grumpy sound to it.

Laura said...

someone just told me about that last week. I'd never heard of it before. SOunds like a blast. It was nice of the German neighors to think of "the American".

I can't help but think of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels whenever I hear the name Ruprecht.

tshsmom said...

That neighbor filling the forgotten shoes is what Christmas is all about.
Thanks for mentioning stollen. My co-worker and I have been arguing about this for years. I've always said that it's German and she insists it's Swedish because she got the recipe from her Swedish grandmother. Well, DUH! I make lasagna, but that doesn't make it a German/Norwegian dish! Thanks for letting me be right today.

Shawn said...

Laura - Most of the Germans I met were very nice...even the big, cornfed guy who thought I was hitting on his girlfriend when she started dancing with me...I just looked at him, smiled and said, "California...Bay Watch..." and all was well.

M - I think Ruprecht is pretty good name for a cat...

K said...

I can't get my head around putting fine edibles in shoes... I keep seeing nuts and candy laced with toejam. Yum yum.

(and yes, I am fully aware of my bias - and mild hypocrisy - here as I purchase stocking stuffers for my son... of course, his smelly little feet have never been in there)

Shawn said...

Me - Well...the toe jam just adds a little festive holiday cheer to the whole thing. Like sprinkles on a cupcake.

And it's also important to note that Germans always have very fresh, clean shoes...I think it's a law...no really...

Tshsmom - Yeah, it's the little things that make the holidays special rather than the big things. Too bad more people couldn't be that nice all year round.

kris said...

As a child I always wished I could put a pair of wooden clogs outside of my door to find them full of candy and toys and a car.

As a neurotic adult I'm pretty sure I would just worry about them being full of spiders when I went to put them back on.

Jason said...

The Dutch have pretty much the same spin, except the sidekick is Svarte Piet (Black Peter) and has evolved from a menacing figure into a very politically incorrect caricature. It's startling to see his image in decorations and candy over there this time of year.

The Zombieslayer said...

Thanks Shawn for the education. I had no idea about the little dude. Knew a little about St. Nick.

thephoenixnyc said...

I'm just having a hard time getting over th eide of eating food that once lived in a shoe.

Slade said...

the evil dwarf thing is funny as hell! I was scared of santa as a kid...I can't imagine someone telling me if I'm not a good little girl the evil midget is gonna crack me with a whip!

Joe said...

Dear LOrd!!!! And I thought I made a scary Santa! I am eternally creeped out!