Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

St. Nick in Austria, Switzerland and Germany

Long ago I heard of Saint Nicholas Day (December 6), but I haven't seen it celebrated. Likewise, I knew as a boy that a lump of coal and a switch were the "gifts" left for boys and girls who weren't good -- but they were to be left in the stocking by Santa Claus.

Here is another look at Christmas traditions in an area where Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated:

While Santa rules in the far north, the jolly elf has little tradition in Austria and surrounding countries. As in past years, some booths at Vienna's main Christmas market are again plastered with stickers depicting Santa with a diagonal red bar across his fluffy white beard - the work of a group in Austria, Switzerland and Germany that sees Santa as a symbol of the commercialization of Christmas and a threat to local traditions.

Instead, kids grow up with traditional Dec. 6 visits from St. Nicholas or Nikolo - a bearded, mitered figure in bishop's garb dating back to the 4th century who hands out sweets to good girls and boys. Christmas is reserved for the "Christkind" or Christ Child, who sneaks into homes and deposits presents under the tree and sometimes brings the tree itself.

As for naughty kids, there is St. Nick's sidekick, who in Austria goes under the name of "Krampus" - a hairy behorned figure who gives them lumps of coal and threatens them with a swipe of his switch unless they mend their ways.

Notice how Santa is opposed as a commercialization of Christmas, but they "keep Christ in Christmas" by having the Christ Child instead of Santa deliver gifts. How do they avoid commercializing the Christ Child?


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