Christmas Traditions from Germany

20131205-212650.jpg Tonight is the eve of Nikolaustag or St. Nicholas Day! the feast day Nicholas, a bishop from Myra (Turkey) who died circa 350 A.D. Over the centuries, the stories associated with this patron saint of children have continued to bring this legend from Germany to life. On the eve of December 6, dressed like a bishop, he walked the streets. Children had placed their wooden shoes filled with hay for his white horse outside the door, hoping they would wake to find them filled with candy and gifts. Today, children still hang their stockings in hopes of waking to find them filled with candy and toys.
It is this figure in history who inspired Clement Moore, a professor at the Episcopal Church’s Theological Seminary in New York to write “A Visit From St. Nick” in 1824, creating the confusion between the December 6 patron saint and Santa Claus. In the pagan origins of the St. Nicholas legend, the evil demonic Knecht Ruprecht accompanied him, carried a switch and gave whippings to children who had been bad. Thus, comes the naughty or nice question that children debate to this day.
After the Reformation, Martin Luther wanted to divert the adoration of saints and have the children happily receive their gifts on Christmas Eve instead. The “Holy Christ” brought the children’s gifts, and in due time this was embodied as an angelic, beautiful golden-robed “Christkind”, representing the Christ Child. Today, many of the beautiful, brightly lit Chriskindlmarkts are opened on December 6, by the angelic Christkind. The open air markets, sometimes called Weihnacht markets, or Christmas Markets, are filled with candy, trinkets, ornaments, and all sorts of beautiful gifts. In some parts of Protestant Germany, the Christkind is replaced by the Wiehnachtsmann, or the figure of Father Christmas.
So many of our Christmas traditions have come from Germany with our ancestors. The Advent Calendar filled with delicious chocolates, with its little windows, help our children count down the days til Christmas. Even the Christmas tree, the Tannenbaum, was brought to America by our German ancestors. Documents reveal that in 1832, a tree with “7 dozen wax tapers, gilded egg cups, paper cornucopia filled with comfits, lozenges and barley sugar” was found in the home of Karl Follen, a literature professor at Harvard University, who had been born in Giessen Germany. His brother, Paul Follenius emigrated to Missouri in 1834, surely bringing the custom here as well. And Fröhliche Weihnachten, or Merry Christmas, was the greeting passed from friend to friend.