Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Since today is the 6th of December, the feast of St. Nicholas for those who celebrate it, I thought I would send my own little Nikolaus out to you. My father used to tell me that on this day every year, in the town where he was born in Germany, Der Nikolaus would visit in the evening. As he passed through the streets, parents would run out of their houses to call him in for a meeting with their children. All the children knew that the visit of this big, rough-looking man in his worn red coat wasn't a great cause for celebration. The meeting between Der Nikolaus and a child involved an assessment of that child's behaviour since Der Nikolaus' visit the year before, and at the end of the discussion, either an orange or a beating was doled out.
When I asked my father if Der Nikolaus was all alone when he visited the houses, he said "yes. Well, unless maybe he had been out drinking with some friends before. He was a rough sort of man."
In case you are wondering: the 6th of December aside, Christmas itself wasn't so frightening for my father. He and his brothers would be called into the living room late on Christmas Eve to find that Der Christkind had visited and magically left behind a table set for a feast and a tree decorated with lit candles on every branch and presents beneath them. I was always astonished by the idea of an incarnation of Jesus as a baby that left a trail of magic and riches behind him, and I would ask to be told about him again and again. Sometimes I spent Christmas Eve with my father and his family and returned Christmas morning to celebrate again, in typical Canadian fashion, with my mother and her side of the family.
This year, I have tried to be more clever with my cards. I made them a few weeks ago, so they will hopefully arrive on time this year! And I tried to make the subject of the cards more obvious than last year, or the year before, since apparently not everyone wants to read the wee stories we tuck into their cards. At least this year I don't foresee getting little notes into February asking why I made a card with a picture of cows on it. St. Nicholas is so common there can be no confusion.
It also happens that my husband's family has a tradition relating to St. Nicolas' feast day: my husband used to always find little treats left for him in his shoes on the morning of the 6th of December. And up in Scotland this year, it looks as if tonight we might be receiving the wonderful gift of the first snow of the season. So I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for snow and wishing you lots of foil-wrapped chocolates in your shoes and hot spiced drinks by the fire!