Friday, 2 December 2011


This is an article I wrote for a local paper.
Normal service will be resumed shortly.
I've been ill and without a computer. Although back home and feeling much better,
I haven't got enough energy to come and visit all my lovely friends; it'll take me a while 
to get round to all of you.
And there I was, hoping to collect enough stories, reminiscences and poems for another
Advent calendar for you and maybe reach four hundred followers by the end of this year. 
Ah well. 
Maybe next year.

Knecht Ruprecht

Agios Nikolaos , better known as Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century bishop in Myra, now part of modern Turkey. Historically, there is very little more that is known of him, except that he is generally seen as a charitable man with a social conscience.

Legends however, abound. Nicolaos saves his home town from famine by miraculously providing grain;  he saves three maidens from shame and ignominy by secretly leaving three pieces of gold in their hovel, while they sleep, thus providing them with a dowry. He saves sailors from a watery grave and leads a young man imprisoned in a distant country back to his homeland. His most famous legendary miracle is that he is said to have revived and reassembled three drunken  students, who had been murdered, chopped up and pickled in a vat by an evil innkeeper. No wonder that Nicolaos became the patron saint of, among others, children, students, sailors, travelling merchants and apothecaries.

The feast day of St Nicholas falls on December 6th and is still celebrated in many western and eastern European countries; during  the night of December 5th  he arrives to bring gifts to the children of Germany.

These gifts had to have been earned, only ‘good’ children were the lucky recipients of Sankt Nikolaus’ presents.  'Nikolaus' was one of those saints, like St. Martin, whose feast days we children awaited with great excitement, but, in the case of the former, a modicum of uneasiness. No matter how good we may have been, there were always those disturbing memories of having been naughty at some time during the year since he last visited,  which had caused parents or teachers to be displeased. Nikolaus had a golden book in which he carefully noted all our good and bad deeds, and even thoughts. Good children were rewarded with presents on Nikolaus Eve, but bad children were punished. Nikolaus had a special companion for the purpose, his servant Ruprecht; Ruprecht carried Nikolaus' heavy sack filled with presents but he  also carried a switch made of birch twigs, with which he beat the air occasionally, making us hold on to mother if the switch whistled by too close for comfort.

During early Advent, father occasionally brought sweets or some biscuits home after work. "I saw Nikolaus today and he let me take these from his basket". I thought that was a good sign; we children believed every word adults uttered.

We were also busy writing wish lists for Nikolaus. Times were still very hard and presents were not then taken for granted, as they are now. Our requests were modest compared to today’s. A wooden toy, perhaps a rag doll, sweets and biscuits, nuts and fruit and a picture book or two, those are the presents I remember.  I never had to wear wooden clogs, like my father did as a boy, but I had a pair just for Nikolaus Day, because they were the appropriate receptacle for Nikolaus' gifts in the Lower Rhineland.

Until we were able to travel again to family living in other villages and celebrate the day with my cousins, Sankt Nikolaus didn’t come to me in person. “He has to visit too many other children to make time to come here, he may not come at all”, mother said.  Obviously, I was very disappointed but also just a little relieved; my conscience was never totally clear. As the evening progressed, the atmosphere in the kitchen, where I was sitting with my back to the large, old-fashioned range, with a picture or colouring book, grew quiet, with a slight tingle of tension in the air. I kept my head down firmly over my book, all the time listening for sounds from outside.

The noise, when it came, did not come from outside, but from right behind me. With a great clatter a wooden toy, a tin of hard boiled sweets and toffees, apples and  gingerbread biscuits came flying into the room. Sankt Nikolaus had thrown all these goodies down the chimney for me and they had survived coming down into the kitchen via the big black stove pipe and the fire in the range. It was a wonder mother hadn’t been hit because she was standing right there, in the way. On the other hand, it was good that she was standing there because she said she had heard Sankt Nikolaus  shout down the chimney that he might come again, later in the night, on his way back home and if he had anything left in his sack he’d put it into my clogs, if I left them out for him. Which I did, naturally, just in case.  And Sankt Nikolaus was as good as his word: in the morning I found that he had left me a book and a teddy bear and more sweets and sticky gingerbread and apples than could fit into my clogs!

One particular year, before I outgrew my belief in  Nikolaus, we spent the feast day at my aunt Johanna’s house; my cousin Dieter was the same age as me, about six or seven. He and I had been told to get ready for a visit from Nikolaus and that he would expect us to sing a song or recite a poem. That wasn’t a problem, every child knew the traditional songs and poems; the problem was, would our nerve hold? Dieter opted for a song, which meant I had to recite a poem. I remember it well “Von drauss vom Walde komm ich her. . . . . .”  We practiced all afternoon.

When male members of the family, disguised with beard and in appropriate costume, i.e., a magnificent coat with a deep hood and boots for Sankt Nikolaus and all enveloping dark rags for the Servant Ruprecht, roughly knocked on the door and demanded entry, many a child’s heart beat furiously, fearfully remembering a small lie, a naughty deed or a hidden shame. December’s early darkness fell, but before the lights in the cold, outer hallway could be lit, my older cousin Helga rushed into the kitchen, shouting “ Nikolaus is on his way, he’s already been next door, he’ll be here any minute.”

Both Dieter and I went into hiding. But it wasn’t any good, we had to come out; there was Nikolaus and although he sounded gruff and a little hoarse, he looked quite kindly on us. Dieter croaked a verse of his song and I managed to stumble through the first two lines of the poem which I knew off by heart, before I gave up. Nikolaus then asked “What do you say, have you been good children? Do you think you deserve a present?”

Quick as a flash my cousin Dieter said: “I have, but Ursula hasn’t. She always spits at me.”

I couldn’t let him get away with that. I said: “ Dieter does it too, he spits first.”

Nikolaus appeared to have been overcome with emotion at that, as evidenced by his heaving shoulders; we both got away with it.

I am glad to say that the custom of frightening children with the spectre of a vengeful Knecht (Servant) Ruprecht ended during my childhood. It was usually my uncle who dressed up as Nikolaus and it didn't take us children long to work it out for ourselves. Knecht Ruprecht was said to be waiting outside by the sleigh, but the adults gave up the pretence of even that.


  1. Sorry to hear that you've been poorly, Friko. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Interesting article, by the way.

  2. I'm sorry you've been ill, Friko. I hope that you are able to rest and resume your normal routines.

    I loved this post, full of reminiscence and information about the celebration of St. Nicholas' Day in Germany. Wonderful memories.

  3. Oh, Friko, I'm so very sorry you've been ill. I hope you are well soon.
    All best wishes,

  4. I miss you Friko...and thought few hours ago perhaps she's in holiday but now you've been ill!! Good to have your news ! All the best

  5. I enjoyed tremendously hearing about the customs of your childhood! But so sorry to hear that you are not well and hope you recover quickly, dear lady!! :)

  6. Oh no. I hope you are on the mend. Get lots of rest, some good food, and come join us when you can.

    I enjoyed this post about Nikolaus, and don't think it was an entirely bad idea that there might be some accountability for children's behavior at Christmas time: maybe we should re-instigate this! I also like the idea of celebrating December 6.

  7. A very nice article, it's interesting to hear the legend first hand as it were. I love the way German children are taught old poems and songs, we don't do that any more with our wonderful old songs.

    Hope you're better soon!

  8. I am so sorry to hear you've been ill! I do hope you recover speedily now that you're in your own familiar surroundings. I am now going to enjoy reading the article you wrote. Big hug & take care till you're well on the mend!

  9. Welcome back. I do hope you get much better v soon.
    I loved that article. Thank you lots.

  10. sorry to hear you have been under the weather and hope you are feeling better soon friko....

    thanks for the insight as well...i agree might not be a bad idea...smiles.

  11. Friko - hope you're well in the mend soon. Love the story of Sankt Nikolaus, also the word picture of your mother by the stove catching the goodies he threw down the chimney - wonderful.

  12. A very interesting post!

    I hope you feel much better soon.

  13. Hello Friko, I do hope that you are well on the road to recovery. Thanks for the story it was very enjoyable and brought back some childhood memories.

  14. Look after yourself Friko. Hope all is back to normal soon!

  15. Bonza article, hope you are well soon :-).

  16. Loved the article but anxiously awaiting your safe return.

  17. What a marvelous tale of your childhood. You have such a wonderful way with words. Hope you are on the mend and back to your old tricks soon ;)

  18. Hahaha! LOVE the St Nick's visitation story!! But I wonder if it's worth being good ALL YEAR just for a gift on one day??!!

  19. I'm so sorry to hear you've been ill. I hope you are back soon and going strong as ever.

    I loved this tale. I'm also glad you spoke up and told on your cousin. Those boys, why do they tattle so on us?

  20. Hoping that you will be feeling much, much better soon, Friko. xo

  21. I am glad to hear you're feeling better--though very sorry to hear you've been ill. I do hope this is the last of that sort of thing for quite a while for you and yours!

    I love the holiday season stories that you've posted here. So interesting the variations in custom from place to place--for you, wooden clogs, for me, Christmas stockings. I do wonder how these traditions get their start.

    May you have a happy and healthy holiday season, dear Friko!

  22. It sounds like you may be better--I hope so. I've been thinking about you and hoping you are okay.

    Funny, I was reading your post and all of a sudden a German maid (from when we lived in Germany) we used to have came to mind. I had forgotten all about her over the years, but she used to tell us St. Nick stories and would make special German treats at Christmas. Now I will be trying to remember her name all night. :)

    This is a nice story Friko!

  23. Do take care of our friend. (Yourself)
    Always meaningful to read your own stories. Thanks for sharing it.

    Warm Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >


    < ° ) } } > <

  24. Oh, Friko. I'm sorry to hear that you are doing poorly. Take care, my dear, and come back when you can.

    All my best,


  25. Sorry to hear you have not been feeling well...thinking of you and sending positive thoughts across the ocean for a quick recovery.

  26. Poor you. I hope you're feeling much better before too long.

  27. Hi Friko .. I do hope you feel better soon .. not an easy time to be ill - just look after yourself.

    I loved the fuller story of Saint Nikolaus as you remember it .. with the history too ..

    Take your time - healing recovery is important .. cheers Hilary

  28. I am so sorry to hear that you are unwell but I am also glad to find that you are now well enough to send us this lovely post.

    There are ruins of an ancient church, in a neighbouring town, which was dedicated to Sankt Nikolaus who is, I believe, the patron saint of sailors. Is this the same Nikolaus do you think?

    Best wishes for a swift recovery.

  29. Feel better soon Friko!! I sure do miss your visits and your posts. So be a good girl and rest so you can get back to your old self!!
    Lovely story by the way!!
    Hugging you with chicken noodle soup!

  30. Very sorry you've been ill, Friko, and hope you'll soon be completely recovered.

    I remember my German penfriend telling me about the legend of St Nikolaus. She grew up in a flat in Hamburg without a chimney at all, so her gifts must have materialised in some other way. :-)

  31. Dear Friko,
    I've missed you and wondered if you were ill. I do so hope you are feeling better and that you're getting enough rest.

    I hope you include this story in your memoir but it may not fit the theme or thread that holds together your memories. So if it doesn't appear there, then I'm grateful I got to read it here on this rainy day, just three days before the Feast of St. Nicholas.


  32. 'Obviously, I was very disappointed but also just a little relieved; my conscience was never totally clear.'

    I'm sure you tortured yourself for nothings, my dear.

  33. Gute Besserung, dear Friko!
    The tradition of the 5th of December is one we brought home from Germany many years ago, and which our children hold dear. Our son has carried it on with his little boys. On the eve of the 6th the shoes go out, and in the morning they're certain to hold a bit of candy, an orange and a story book - our twist on the tradition!

  34. Glad to hear you're feeling better Friko. Loved the story! Memories!

    Anna :o]

  35. Delightful story. How sad that some children are too knowing too young.

    I hope you're feeling better and stronger by the hour. Make haste slowly - it's the only way.

  36. Since I'm Dutch I grew up with St. Nicolas (Sinterklaas) and his helper was Zwarte Piet (black Peet, who you call the Knecht). 45 min. away from me I buy the peppernuts, chocolate letters, ginger cookies (speculaas) for my daughter, who sets the celebration of St. Nicolaas' birthday's tradition forth.
    Hope you feel better soon!

  37. Sorry to hear you have been poorly Friko and hope you feel better very soon.

  38. I was sorry to see here that you have been ill, Friko, and wish you regained health pronto!

    I do appreciate your reminisces here of St. Nicholas. I am of Greek heritage, so, December 6 was a saint's day and holy. We did not get gifts, but, it was observed. Later, when we had children of our own, St. Nicholas would leave little trinkets and quarters in shoes for our girls.

  39. now THAT is a childhood memory worth keeping. pressies in clogs - i never!

    hope you're feeling better x

  40. Lovely story, Friko.
    So sorry to learn that you have been poorly. Take care and don't rush your recovery. Looking forward to more of your blogposts.

  41. die Erlebnisse aus Deiner Kinderzeit habe ich gerne gelesen und sie ähneln der meinen sehr, nur habe ich nie eine schlechte Erfahrung mit St. Nikolaus gemacht, denn meine Mutter war so feinfühlig, so dass wir nie Angst haben mussten. Im Nachhinein finde ich das sehr schön von ihr und ich würde das Gleiche auch mit meinen Kindern tun...
    Ich hoffe, es geht Dir wieder gut und wünsche Dir das Beste!

  42. My thoughts are with you as you rest up and recover. Take things very gently, Friko. Thanks for sharing the article and the glimpse of a different culture.

  43. What a wonderful piece!! And - sending you healing thoughts and wishes!

  44. Warren es gute Kinder oder obese? My that brings back some awesome memories and tomorrow would be the day to put out my plate next to my bed but that was then. Loved this!!

  45. The part that really got to me was the tension as you waited. I can just feel it. The waiting.

    You were in the hospital? Oh dear. Glad you're back home now - I'll bet you are too.

  46. I for one will miss your Advent Calendar, but sometimes "real" life lays us low and we cannot do the fun things.

    I enjoyed the story today and you have led me to recall how my Dutch Nana dressed like Santa until one year I noticed that Santa had fiery red fingernails. He never came back to see me again. Dianne

  47. Dear woman, I'm glad you're home now. Very glad.


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