Der Nikolaus Kommt

Posted on 22. Dec, 2014 by in Culture, History, Holidays

At the beginning of December, I was informed that on the 5th of December Nikolaus (St Nicholas) would come in the night and fill children’s shoes with presents. This tradition is carried out in parts of Germany, Holland, Austria, Italy and Switzerland amongst others. To me this sounded a lot like Christmas, and it is indeed very similar – here’s a look at the tradition of der Nikolaus.

Who is St Nicholas?

St Nicholas was born in the third century in a village called Patara – the village was in that time part of Greece but has now changed to Turkey. St Nicholas was a Christian who helped the poor by giving them money and food. Some stories say he threw the money/food through a window which landed in the shoes from a poor family – hence why the tradition is to fill children’s shoe with presents. St Nicholas died on 6th December, making St Nicholas’s Day a remembrance for him.

Throughout the years St Nicholas turned into Santa Claus. This happened when the Dutch brought the tradition over to America where they took the Dutch word for St Nicholas “Sinterklaas” and turned it into “Santa Claus”. Although St Nicholas is seen as Santa Claus in many countries, in Germany St Nicholas remains the same as he originally was, and also remains to give gifts on the night of the 5th of December – instead of the 24th.

Santa

Chocolate Santa Claus. Own photo.

Der Krampus

Nikolaus doesn’t come alone on the night of the 5th December, he brings der Krampus along. This tradition belongs to areas around the Alps for example: Southern Bavaria, Austria and Romania among others. Unlike Nikolaus, the Krampus doesn’t bring any gifts; instead he is there to punish/take away any böse kinder (naughty children) that didn’t behave that year. On the 5th of December some places hold the tradition of the Krampuslauf (literally translated to “Krampus run”), in which people dress up as the Krampus and walk along the streets in the evening, sometimes accompanied by St Nicholas.

Krampuslauf. Photo by Giulio on Flickr

Krampuslauf. Photo by Giulio on Flickr

 

Krampus postcard. Photo owned by Dave on Flickr

Krampus postcard. Photo owned by Dave on Flickr

 

The Krampus is half goat, half demon and symbolises the devil. He usually carries chains and bells with him, and a bundle of branches used to hit children with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you were good all year long then Nikolaus will bring you presents – but unlike the Christkind (literally translates to Christchild) he brings very specific presents.

Here’s a list of what he would bring:

Nikolaus Apfel. Own photo

Nikolaus Apfel. Own photo

Nüsse: Nuts

Mandarine: Mandarins

Äpfel: Apples – in Germany you can buy special „Nikolaus Äpfel”, they are red, look perfect and are small enough to fit in a shoe!

Lebkuchen: A traditional German biscuit which is similar to gingerbread.

Spekulatius: Another Christmas biscuit (which originally comes from Holland)

Schokolade: Chocolate – often a chocolate Santa Claus/Nikolaus.

 

I got my first ever Nikolaus present this year. Own photo

I got my first ever Nikolaus present this year. Own photo

The presents reflect back to St Nicholas feeding the poor, and so the children are given healthier food as well as sweets and chocolate. Although these presents are often seen in children’s shoes, nowadays there are also “modern presents” such as toys, games, clothes etc.

 

 

 

 

 

I really like this ongoing tradition, I find that sometimes we lose the meaning of our celebrations and forget why we even celebrate in the first place! I hope you enjoyed the story of Nikolaus and that it made you a little bit more excited for Christmas!

Ich wunsche Euch allen frohe Weihnachten,

(I wish you all a merry Christmas,)

Larissa

The Advent Calender and December 24th in Germany

Posted on 21. Dec, 2014 by in Culture, Food, History, Holidays, Language, Traditions

Servus!

Only 4 more days ’til Christmas, so here’s another German Christmas post! Did you know that the Advent calendar chocolate you’re happily chomping away on is a German invention? Yes, along with the Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree), the Adventskalender is something else you can thank the Germans for. As the big day draws nearer, today I’d like to talk a bit about the Adventskalender, December 24th, and what happens in Germany over Christmas.

Now, here’s a photo of a German advent calendar. Notice anything odd?

IMG_0197

Photo by fruetel on flickr.com

Yes, that’s right – there are only 24 doors on a German Adventskalender. In Germany, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th, not December 25th. That’s because December 24th marks the last day of Advent. This is not unique to Germany, however: Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Denmark and Estonia are just some countries that have the same tradition.

Der Adventskalender: The Advent calendar
Advent calendars date back to the 1800s, when German Protestants used various methods to count down from the start of Advent to Christmas. Techniques used included:

Drawing chalk markings on doors
Lighting candles (one for each day)
Attaching religious pictures onto walls
Burning an Advent candle that lasts 24 days

Project 365 #351: 171209 Marking Time

Adventskerze – Advent candle. Photo by comedynose on flickr.com

A German called Gerhard Lang is credited with printing the first Advent calendar for sale, even though the tradition had been around for a long time beforehand.

This Advent calendar consisted of little, religious pictures which were to be attached to a piece of cardboard – one for each day. Later on they developed to have the Türen (doors) and Schokolade (chocolate) we are familiar with today.

So what happens on December 24th and 25th in Germany?

Christmas Eve is called Heiliger Abend or Heilige Nacht (‘Holy Evening’ or ‘Holy Night’) in German. Most businesses, including banks, post offices etc. close early on Heiliger Abend, to allow Germans to start their celebrations and travel to their family homes.

Food
Germans usually eat a huge Christmas meal on both December 24th and December 25th – though some families make one feast bigger than the other. A traditional German Christmas meal might include the following: Weihnachtskarpfen (‘Christmas carp’), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), Gurkensalat (cucumber salad), Weihnachtsgans (‘Christmas goose’), Kraut (cabbage), Knödel (dumplings). For sweet treats and dessert there is Weihnachtsstollen (Christmas Stollen), Lebkuchen (gingerbread, sometimes covered in chocolate), Marzipan (marzipan), and other Kekse und Süßigkeiten (biscuits and sweets) known as Vanillekipferl, Zimtsterne and Kokosmakronen, to name a few. Glühwein (mulled wine) is a very popular German drink at Christmas time, but most alcoholic beverages are common.

Frohe Weihnachten euch allen mit einem Plätzchenteller

A variety of German Christmas Kekse, including Lebkuchen, Vanillekipferl, and Zimtsterne. Photo by jseidl2011 on flickr.com

Dickbauch
Dickbauch means “fat stomach”. This word refers to a German myth that those who do not eat enough on Christmas eve are visited during the night by demons. To prevent it, you must have a Dickbauch. I don’t think any of us need another reason to stuff our faces at Christmas time, but as far as excuses go, this is a pretty good one!

Presents
Children open presents on Christmas eve. Apparently, this tradition began in the 16th century with Martin Luther, who wanted to steer the celebrations away from December 6th (St. Nicholas Day), when presents were traditionally exchanged in Catholic families. He believed it was blasphemy to worship a saint rather than Christ himself, so he started the tradition of exchanging gifts on Heiliger Abend in honour of Christ. Traditionally, presents are put underneath the tree while children are out of the room. Some families also celebrate the Christkind, which you can read more about here.

Time for Church, family, and resting
Christmas day is for going to Die Kirche (Church), visiting friends and family, staying at home, resting, reflecting – and eating even more food.

St. Ursula in München Schwabing Frohe Weihnachten - Merry Christmas

Die Kirche – Church. Photo by digital cat on flickr.com

Unlike in England, where December 24th is a normal, working day for most people, December 25th is Christmas Day and December 26th involves a mad rush to the Boxing Day sales, Germany treats these three days as a holiday. In other words, hardly anything is open at this time. For that reason, it is wise to stock up on food on or before 23rd, because most supermarkets in Germany are closed on 24th, 25th AND 26th December!

***

This’ll probably be my last post before Christmas, so I’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s been reading and commenting on my posts for the past half year. It’s been a pleasure writing for you all, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts and learnt something from them!

Ich wünsche euch alle Fröhliche Weihnachten! Viel Spaß! Bis zum nächsten mal,

Constanze x

Guten Tag von München!

Posted on 19. Dec, 2014 by in Uncategorized

Hello there, I’m Larissa Arnold and I’m very excited to say that I will be posting a couple of articles every month all the way from Munich, Germany. If you haven’t already guessed from my name, I’m sisters with another blogger here on Blog Transparent – Constanze Arnold. Here’s a little bit about myself:

Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest 2013, I’m wearing a traditional Bavarian dress called a “Dirndl”. Own photo.

I am half German, half English. I grew up in England but spent many summers in Bavaria. When I was little I always fantasized about living in Germany, and when I was 18 I moved to Germany to train in professional dance. After a year I left the course, but, as I had fallen in love with Munich I decided to stay and study to be a Gymnastik Lehrerin (sport and dance teacher).

 

I could always understand German as a child, but I had problems speaking it. After my first year living here my German improved hugely and I’m happy to say that apart from one or two mistakes (nobody’s perfect!) I am now fluent. I believe that the easiest way to learn a language is when you live in the country and have to speak it every day.

Apart from my Ausbildung (education/course) I also teach aerobics and wirbelsäulengymnastik (literally translates to “spine gymnastics” and I haven’t found an English word yet that sums up exactly what it is – the nearest I’ve got to is “back strengthening class”) three days a week at a physiotherapy clinic. I live with my boyfriend and zwei Kaninchen (two rabbits): Amelie and Hector in Munich and I travel back to England around three times a year to catch up with friends and family.

I’ve been living in München for over 2 years now and I am so happy that I can share the culture and events that happen here with you! If you have any questions about myself or Munich then feel free to leave me a comment below.

Bis zum nächsten Mal!

(Until the next time!)

Larissa