‘Tis the Season for a Reckoning: Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day)

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Maybe you are late getting the message:  You’d better be good, for goodness sake.  Or if you live in certain regions of Germany and Austria, my friend, you’d better be good, for badness and brimstone’s sake.  A reckoning is coming and coming quickly.  Today is the eve of Nikolaustag– St. Nicolas Day, aka Boot Night.  Children put out boots and St. Nick fills them with candy.  Unless, *sigh*, well, there’s no easy way to tell this . . .

Salvation by chocolate is not a sure thing in middle Europe.  

Judgment is real and is more gruesome than a lump of coal.

On Nikolaustag or its eve, St. Nick is accompanied by his Shadow– his ominous, treacherous, hideous shadow.  The Shadow offers not candy and kindness but switches, ashes, and a little roughing up.  Or, possibly, if you are really bad (you know who you are), you’ll be stuffed in a sack and carried off to the netherworld . . . in one piece or many, it makes no difference to this guy.

I kid you not.

The exact form of this shadow is dependent on the region of Germany– Schwarz Peter, Knecht Ruprecht, or Krampus are all grotesque and the stuff of nightmares, but, for my money, Krampus is the most horrible.  Of the many things Bavaria and its neighboring corner of Austria do right–and there are so many– Krampus is not one.  He is, literally, a beastly demon.  But don’t take my word for it, let Anthony Bourdain bring you up to speed:

Those of you who live in Germany or have followed my blog in 2014 and 2015 have more than a little knowledge of this Christmas tradition, so I won’t be long winded here.  (But you can revisit those old blog posts and get up to speed at these links:  St. Nick and Belsnickel,  and Saints and Demons)

If you have been nice this year, or even reasonably nice this year (I don’t know about you all, but the bar is set pretty low in my house), then you will probably make it out of this holiday alive.  You may even get a bootful of candy!

I did have a friend whose slightly naughty younger brother once got only a bra in his boot– and, to clarify, this was not taken as encouragement to be naughty, but meant to humiliate him into being better next year.  Oh, that crazy German sense of humor!

We’re Stateside this year, but we are still celebrating Boot Night.  Wish us luck with that– I’m feeling cautiously optimistic.

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Up On the Rooftop, European Style

 

Saint Nick gets to see rooftops all around the world.  The rest of us, not so much.

Here are a few rooftops from my corner of the globe.

Rooftops of Bitche, France
Rooftops of Bitche, France
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A few photos of the rooftops of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
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Rothenburg, beautiful “fish scale” roof–decrepit yet still sound

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Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany, slate "fish scale" roof, 2014
Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany, slate “fish scale” roof, 2014

 

Rooftop at Trier Christmas Market, 2014
Rooftop at Trier Christmas Market, 2014
Rooftops of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, 2008
Rooftops of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, 2008

 

Rooftops of Heidelberg, Germany, 2008
Rooftops of Heidelberg, Germany, 2008

 

Rooftops of Ripon, England in freezing fog, 2008
Rooftops of Ripon, England in freezing fog, 2008

 

Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany, 2014
Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany, 2014

 

Bernkasel-Kues, November 2014
Bernkasel-Kues,
November 2014

 

And, just in case Santa is reading, please don’t forget this neighborhood:

Snow-covered rooftops looking out over my village in Germany
Snow-covered rooftops looking out over my village in Germany

And, one more note:

That roof belongs to naughtly neighbors. (They threw a liquor bottle in our bushes, I'm just saying. . .)
That roof belongs to naughtly neighbors.      (They threw a liquor bottle in our bushes. Not nice. . .)

 

 

 

 

December 6th–Nikolaustag (St. Nikolaus Day)

Father Christmas at Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, England.
Father Christmas at Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, England.

Happy Nikolaustag, aka Boot Night.

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in Germany.  Children put boots out for St. Nicholas before going to bed on December 5th, and he visits during the night.  If they’ve been good, St. Nick fills the boot with goodies, but if they’ve been bad, they wake up to a bootful of twigs.   Yum.

The traditions in Germany are complicated and St. Nick is often found in the company of a less inviting sidekick–so the presence of a naughtly or nice list and the threat of twigs (or worse) is a bit more sinister than in the U.S.  But more about that in a few days.

For now, just place a boot by the mantel or on the front stoop and see what happens by morning.  If you’ve been good, you’ll wake up to candies or a toy.  If you’ve been bad. . .well, you’ve already had your fun, so what are you complaining about!

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