St. Nickolaus, as I remember it
(1947, I was 11years old, in a town near the Dutch boarder.)
The Christmas-season started officially on the first Sunday of Advent, or to be more precise, the Saturday before. A bunch of neighborhood kids would go into the nearby forest to gather evergreens and other materials needed to make an Advent wreath or some other kind of Advent arrangement. The older boys and girls remembered from previous years where to find the shiny holly with the deep red berries. We would cut some evergreen branches and pick the most perfect pinecones right off the trees. A basket, covered with an old newspaper, would hold the soft, dark green moss.
All the other valuables we had gathered including sticks and pretty colorful leaves found their way into a large bag. One could never tell how they could come in handy making the Advent decorations.
I chose to make an Advent centerpiece.
Moss, of different shades was placed on a large service platter; 2 potatoes, cut in halves served as candle holders for the four red candles. The bases of the potatoes were covered with more moss and colorful leaves.
Last year's red ribbon needed ironing. My Mother performed this task by simply holding one end of the ribbon in her right hand and the other end in her left hand, stretching the ribbon she pressed it against the hot stovepipe sliding it slowly from the left to right and than once more from the right to left site. The ribbon began to look like new again before my very eyes. She made a bow and I placed it, along with a pinecone in the center of the moss platter. My creation was completed and I was happy with the result.
On Sunday, at twilight, we assembled around the kitchen table and sang:” Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt” and other songs of Advent. (Advent, Advent one candle is lit----.)
Also, on that first Sunday of Advent, my younger sister and I would get a jar and a small box. The jar was for the candies we hoped to get from the baker and grocer when shopping at their store. We would try not to eat them, but place them in the jar until the following Sunday. Each time we managed to deny ourselves the pleasure of eating the sweet treat, a piece of woolen yarn would go into the little box. On Christmas Eve these bits of yarn were carefully placed in the manger to make the baby's bed more comfortable. Of course, this resulted in praise as well as an extra candy from the grown- ups.
December 6th is the feast day of St. Nick. We really looked forward to this day. On December 5th late in the after noon, all the schoolchildren would gather in the park near the river, bringing their homemade lanterns with them. All of us hoped to get a glimpse at St. Nick and his helper, as they came sailing up the river from Holland.
Moving about to keep from freezing we waited. Finally, the spotlights were turned on, and we could see St. Nick and Knecht Ruprecht, (that was the name of Santa’s helper,) arrive. The mayor of the city and other dignitaries were on hand to welcome the very distinguished VIPs. Slowly, all of them walked off the boat. St.Nick was dressed like a bishop, wearing a long white robe, a tall triangular shaped headdress, called a Mitre, with broad satin ribbons flowing down his back. He carried a long cane, curved at the top. He sure looked dignified. His helper was dressed in black. Under his arm he carried a Golden- and a Black book. We hoped of course, our name was listed in the Gold book. The older kids had told us some scary stories about what could happen to boys and girls, whose names were found in the Black book.
Slowly, the small group of VIPs came closer. The band of the Volunteer Fire Department started to play; all the musicians were dressed in their sharp looking uniforms. The lanterns were lit, including the torches carried by members of the fire department. The most beautiful, white and black horse stood nearby, prancing in anticipation, waiting for their precious cargo.
Finally, the moment had come and St. Nick would mount the white horse while Knecht Ruprecht climbed on to the black horse. Slowly, the parade started to move toward town. The sidewalks were crowded with people waving and singing. The brass band was playing. The firemen, with their torches walked beside the horses. The children carried their homemade lanterns, and the teachers, keeping an eye on all that was happening, kept the parade moving toward the schoolhouse, where St. Nick and his VIPs visited every classroom, decorated by the children in honor of St. Nick.
Being kind hearted, St. Nick assured us that all the children were listed in the Golden book, but he also reminded us that there was plenty room for improvement. ”Try your best,” he said, “Say your prayers and obey your parents and teachers.”
We were relieved. Knecht Ruprecht, Santa's helper, handed out brown bags, which had a few cookies and candies in them, some nuts and an apple. At the gate, parents or the older sisters and brothers were waiting to take us home.
But that was not all; the party was not over yet. Overnight, St. Nick would pay a visit to every home. At bedtime we placed a dinner plate on the table in front of our seat. We would make sure that we had laid some hey on the windowsill for the horses.
Early in the morning, the hey was gone; we knew Santa had been there. Again, our plate had cookies, candies, nuts and an apple on it. In addition the boys would receive a pair of knitted socks and the girls a new apron. O, St. Nick was such a good man. He had also found our dog’s food bowl, which we had given an especially good scrubbing the day before. Our Bubi, (the dachen's name) received a few cookies too. But there was something else Santa had brought, and that was a “Stutenkerl” which was not a Gingerbread man, but a sweet dough man.
We grew up on dark rye bread and pumpernickel, which is black bread. So, a “sweet, white bread man” who had raisins as buttons was a wonderful surprise, not only for us children but for the adults as well.