Showing posts with label St. Nicholas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Nicholas. Show all posts

Dec 21, 2018

Christmas Pickle

The Weihnachtsgurke, or Christmas Pickle, is supposedly a classic German tradition, but may not be as German as some believe. Legend has it that when Germans decorate their Christmas tree, the very last ornament they hang on it is a pickle or pickle ornament. On Christmas Eve, the first child to find the pickle hidden in the branches is said to get good luck for the year to come, as well as an extra present.

If you ask someone from the American Midwest, they will most likely be able to tell you all about the German festive custom. Germans, on the other hand, may have no knowledge of the custom.
One story is that a captured German-American soldier in the civil war became seriously ill and asked for a pickle as his last meal. After eating it, he was restored to health and from then on always hung a pickle on his tree each year.

According to another legend, St. Nicholas (not Santa) discovered that a shop keeper had murdered three boys and hidden them in a barrel of pickles. He prayed for the boys and his faith miraculously brought them back to life. Supposedly, from then on the pickle has been linked to St. Nick and consequently to Christmas.

Recently, the Christmas Pickle has made its way back across the pond and is beginning to rise in popularity in Germany.

Dec 1, 2017


In Austria, 'Krampus night' is December 5, or St. Nicholas eve. One of the ways to witness the spectacle is to attend a  Krampuslauf or 'Krampus run'. You remember Krampus, according to folklore he is the devilish sidekick of St. Nicholas, and his duties include throwing naughty children into a sack or basket, beating them with a whip, and carrying them off into the night.

One of the largest events on Krampus night is held in Klagenfurt am Worthersee, near the Austrian-Slovenian border and takes place along almost a mile through the city center. It begins with a troupe of young men who strap 45-pound bells around their waists. They are called called Krampusglocken or Balkenglocke, the instruments make a thunderous boom as the men march together, smacking the bells with their thighs. Most of the hundreds of performers wear elaborate wooden masks and fur costumes, some use painted masks with LED lights and other modern accessories.
A great way to have a fun parade and usher in the holiday season.

Incidentally, the day after is St. Nicholas day, when he comes to leave coins or candies in good children's shoes. Growing up, someone would toss little bags of candy on our porch. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive in part from Saint Nicholas and in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas, the saint's name in that language.

Dec 27, 2014

Origin of Christmas Stockings

The tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have originated from the actions of a kind noble man named Nicholas, who was born in March, 270 AD, in Patara, at the time Greek, but now Turkey. While still young, his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. Nicholas became a Christian priest and used all his riches to help the poor, the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was made Bishop of Myra (modern Turkey) at a young age and became known for his kindness and generosity. He traveled across the country helping people, giving gifts of money and other presents. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day - St Nicholas Day, December 6 in Western Christianity and 19 December in Eastern Christianity. He died December 6, 343 AD. Many still observe December 6 as a St. Nicholas holiday. I grew up enjoying the candy treats thrown on my porch the evening of December 6.

Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of Saint Nicholas' life and deeds. One popular account (with many variations) tells us of a poor peasant who lived happily in a small cottage in Saint Nicholas' hometown, with his wife and three daughters. The wife suddenly died of an illness, leaving the poor man and his three daughters in despair. All the burden of household chores now fell upon the daughters.

When the daughters reached a marriage age, the poor father became depressed for he knew he could in no way marry them off to good men. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value - a dowry, which he could not afford.

Saint Nicholas found out about peasant and his daughters and decided to help him. He went to the peasant's house the night before the eldest daughter came of age, with a bag of gold and waited for the family to go to bed. That night, after finishing their washing for the day, the daughters hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. As they turned off the lamps and fell asleep, St. Nicholas tiptoed to the cottage window and saw the daughters' stockings hanging close to his reach. He carefully put in his bag of gold in one of the stockings and went away.

When the father found the bag the next morning and opened it, he was delighted to find enough gold in the stocking to pay for the dowry of one daughter. The father was able to provide for his eldest daughter and saw that she got married to a nice groom.

Soon after, Saint Nicholas took another bag of gold, and threw it carefully into another stocking. The next morning the man opened the stocking and found enough gold to marry off his second daughter.

The father had grown eager to discover his mysterious benefactor, and each night he stayed awake. When Saint Nicholas came up with another bag of gold, the man recognized him. He fell on his knees and cried of gratitude and thanked him with all his heart.

This is how the tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have begun.

And below, my Christmas stockings.

Jan 6, 2012

What's in a Name, Belsnickel

German for "fur-Nicholas," is a fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in the folklore of southwestern Germany, where my family is originally from. The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

Belsnickel's fur covers his entire body, and he sometimes wears a mask with a long tongue. He is a companion of Saint Nickolas, a bit scary, and visits children at Christmas time to deliver socks or shoes full of candy, cakes, nuts, and fruit, but if the children are not good, they will find coal and/or switches (stick) in their stockings instead. Other traditions had him strewing those goodies on the floor and if an adult bent down to pick up something they were hit on the back from Belsnickel with a switch.

In many places, Belsnickel was a precursor to Santa Claus or St. Nickolas and the popularity in the US faded in the early 1900s. Many of the old traditional Santa equivalents always had coal and a switch for bad kids along with the goodies. Alas, many good life lessons have been replaced with the current - everyone gets everything attitude.