I grew up adoring Santa Claus. Almost every Christmas, someone would dressed up as Santa Claus to make the occasion even more festive. The party gets more alive and kids shrieked with glee once they see him. From decorations ,cards, Christmas socks, to figurines set up in shops, there is this heavily- bearded old man dressed in red suit with a hat and black boots, carrying a sack full of gifts. It has even become a tradition for kids to sit in the lap of Santa Claus and take photos. The sight of him elevates our excitement for the great gifts that He brings. As a kid, I am also enamored to the old tale that if you have been good all through out the year, you will receive presents from Santa Claus. Santa flies through the air on a winter night of Christmas eve with his sleigh full of gifts pulled by reindeer, especially led by Rudolf, the one with a red nose. Santa Claus climbs up to the chimney and then leave the gifts under the Christmas tree.
On the other side,my Dutch husband grew up adoring Sinterklaas or the De Goede Sint (The Good Saint) which is the big thing for kids in the Netherlands . Sinterklaas is widely celebrated on Dec. 5th and most anticipated by Dutch kids during December more than Christmas day itself. Sinterklaas wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop’s alb and sometimes red stola, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. He traditionally rides a white horse. In the Netherlands, the horse is called Amerigo. Sinterklaas with his Zwarte piets roam around the neighborhood and give gifts to children.This festivity is full of Kruidnoten, Gevuldekoeken,chocolate letters, spekulaas cookies and so many different treats for the little ones. It’s really the biggest event for Dutch kids.
There are so many Santa Claus figures all over the world but I believe that they all portray the same role as the mythical Santa Claus and its connection to Christmas.But here in Germany, Santa Claus is nowhere to be found because St. Nicholas beats him. In this festive season,all German kids look forward for St. Nicholas Day or Nikolaustag on December 6, more than Christmas Day on December 25th.
But who is the real St. Nicholas?
Across the German-speaking region of Europe there are many kinds of Santa Clauses with many different names. Despite their many names, they are all basically the same mythic character. But few of them have anything to do with the real Saint Nicholas (Sankt Nikolaus or der Heilige Nikolaus), who was probably born around A.D. 245 in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey.He is credited with several miracles and his feast day is December 6, which is the main reason he is connected with Christmas. In Austria, parts of Germany, and Switzerland, der Heilige Nikolaus (or Pelznickel) brings his gifts for children on Nikolaustag, Dec. 6, not Dec. 25.
So what happens during Nikolaustag in Germany?
I noticed that German kids are very very spoiled during Christmas season here in Germany. As early as October, the shops are already filled with Adventkalendar which is literally a calendar with chocolates , toys and sweets! German kids count the days before St. Nicholas ‘s arrival through the Adventkalendar which also coincide with the 4 weeks of Advent season before Christmas day. Around November, the shops are already adorned with Christmas decorations, there’s the wide array of different Adventkranz, and the Weihnachtsmann or (Father Christmas ) strolls inside the shops with a sack giving out chocolate balls and sweets for kids. He also visit the Christkindlmarkt during Frohe festtages where there again, giving away candy bracelets, toys and chocolate balls to eager kids. One happy day for kids, and for parents too!
On the night of December 5th , in small communities in Austria and the Catholic regions of Germany, a man dressed as der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) who resembles a bishop and carries a staff) goes from house to house to bring small gifts to the children. Accompanying him are several ragged looking, devil-like Krampusse, who mildly scare the children. Although Krampus/Knecht Ruprecht carries eine Rute (a switch), He only teases the children with it, while St. Nicholas hands out small gifts to the children. In some regions, there are other names for both Nikolaus and Krampus (Knecht Ruprecht in northern Germany). The Krampuslauf custom found in Austria and Bavaria also happens around December 5 or 6, but it also can take place at various times during November or December, depending on the community. While Santa Claus is more gay and cheerful ,take note that St. Nicholas doesn’t even say Ho ho ho !
Now that we live in Bavaria, my daughter had her first taste of Nikolaustag. She shrieked with delight when she saw her yellow boots is filled with goodies and gifts . Her first taste of Nikolaustag came as a bright and sweet surprise! This experience is new to us but then I am so glad that my daughter can have things such as this. This is one of the local traditions that we are looking forward to celebrate through the coming years.
Do you believe in Santa Claus?
What Christmas traditions do you do during this holiday season?
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