The first tradition… Advent Calendars for EVERYONE! That’s right! Not just one for the whole house… so everyone can fight over what’s behind door 1, 2, 3… or all 24 of them! Nope! Lara’s mom sent 10 Advent Calendars here with the best prize inside… GERMAN CHOCOLATE!
An Advent calendar is used to count or celebrate the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Some calendars are religious. Some are fun. Most begin on December 1, regardless of when Advent begins, which can be as early as November 27 and as late as December 3. Many look like a large rectangular card with “windows” on them that open. There’s one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day and one is opened every day during Advent. In many calendars, the windows reveal an image, a poem or a portion of a story like the story of Jesus’ birth. Other Advent calendars have a small gifts inside. Three of the calendars that Lara’s mom sent were bigger and they were for Lara, Brittany and Travis. Inside each day’s little window is a foil wrapped chocolate egg. Inside the egg is a little toy that has to be assembled. Some are blow up balls or parachuting dogs or miniature tops that spin. They are different every day! Although the kids are 15 and 18, it’s still fun to watch them open the eggs and see what’s inside! And usually, all of us are playing with the little toy! Maybe all of us really are kids at heart!
We experienced the second German Tradition on December 6th. That’s when German children celebrate Nikolaus. Though they have similar outfits, Nikolaus is not to be confused with Santa Claus, who Germans call the Weihnachtsmann, or Father Christmas. They are two different people. In fact, many religious families try to focus more on Nikolaus earlier in December to make sure Christmas is actually about Jesus’ birth, and not presents from a commercialized Santa.
On December 6, Germans remember the death of Nicholas of Myra (now the Anatolia region of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly, and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students. Known as Nicholas the Wonder Worker for his miracles, he is also identified with Santa Claus. Beliefs and traditions about Nikolaus were probably combined with German mythology, particularly regarding stories about the bearded pagan god Odin, who also had a beard and a bag to capture naughty children.
On the night of December 5th, children set their shoes out. The custom began because the historical St. Nicholas had a reputation for leaving secret gifts, such as coins, in people’s shoes overnight. Kids put out a boot or shoe. And they must be polished so children can show they’ve been good. According to the legend, Nikolaus comes in the middle of the night on a donkey or a horse and leaves little treats… like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys… for good children. If a child is naughty, Nikolaus leaves a “rod” in the boot, basically for “spankings”, to show that the child doesn’t deserve a treat. Children were often frightened of being questioned about their behavior because they’ve been told that St. Nicholas will hurt them with his rod or even put them in a sack and take them away. Then… On Christmas Eve… Santa Claus comes to German homes… often in person and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
Lara, Travis and Brittany put a boot or shoe by the front door and to our surprise… Nikolaus DID make a stop! In the morning, there was chocolate and candy inside each shoe or boot…and a gift! Lara received Body Butter in 3 different scents. Brittany received a lacey top. Travis received a Hamburger Patty maker. (He loves to make hamburgers). It seems Nikolaus in America has quite a sense of humor!