Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saint Nikolaus, The Critical Mom, and the German Holiday System

It's that extra mini-Christmas day today:  Saint Nikolaus Day.  All the way home from school the Critical Mom's eight-year-old daughter was explaining how she was going to polish her boots--'cause the teacher said we should!!--in order to make them ready for Saint Nikolaus, who's supposed to drop by and fill them with candy, preferably great big foil-wrapped chocolate figures in the shape of himself, exactly the ones I'd neglected to buy that very morning in HEMA, thinking it was too early for Christmas and I'd get fresher ones later.
The Critical Mom is often way off schedule that way.  My neurons fire accurately enough on American holidays:  On Hallowe'en, I make sure we have costumes.  Also pumpkins, in plenty of time to carve them before trick-or-treat time.  Also when I want to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  But getting it together to buy make-up or costumes or those little electronic sticks that substitute for candles in the Saint Martin's lanterns for St. Martin's Day--when is it again?  Sometime in early November?--is something I only managed to do on time this year.   And this year I realized I'd better get Saint Nikolaus day right.  Now, he's not exactly Santa Claus.  He's some fourth century dude, a bishop, I gather, famous for good deeds.  A modest fellow, he didn't want some poor sisters to know he was helping them, so he just dropped lumps of gold down their chimney, avoided being arrested for breaking and entering, and ever since, German schoolchildren have been demanding lumps of gold, or chocolate, in their shoes,  just like whatever landed in the shoes of the poor three sisters way back when.  Take that, Hallmark greeting cards!  There's a romantic tale for you.
As my daughter chattered on--"Mommy, which pair of boots should I take?"--and I got distracted remembering that one pair, the nice one with the rabbit fur around the rim, got moth-eaten and I'd better get it repaired before she grows out of them--I realized we were standing in front of the Very Last Bakery We Could Reach Before Going Home.  
"Wait here," I told the kid.  Now, this was the crummy bakery, but even the crummiest German bakery is better than almost any American bakery.  I went in and was just selecting my purchases when I saw my daughter staring in the window, eager to see what "surprise" would await her in the morning.  I made a little twirling motion with my finger, she turned around so she couldn't see, and the saleslady laughed.  I bought cookies in the shape of snowmen trimmed with chocolate, little chocolate St. Nikolauses wrapped in foil (alas, no big ones--sold out, naturally!) and "Stutenmänner," big hunks of break in the shape of the Gingerbread man, with raisin eyes, that are particularly popular on German holidays.  
Back home, I found my daughter holding her rain boots in the bathroom sink, industriously scrubbing away, and advised her not to get any water inside, since they'd be awfully mouldy if she did.  She was very serious about that and did avoid getting water in them.
When I'd finally managed to get her and her next-older brother in bed, eat dinner with my husband and then get our oldest in bed, i.e. slightly after eleven, I got the goodies in ribbon-wrapped packs, arranged shoes stuffed with goodies in front of doors, and collapsed.  Happy Holidays!  Next comes Christmas, which Americans think of as Christmas Eve.  Germans open all their presents on Christmas Eve . . . but I always say we should keep a few things for Christmas morning, and we do.


  1. Were the gingerbread cookies any good? They're usually awful (awfully stale) in the U.S. of A.

  2. Ah, these were only in the shape of gingerbread men . . . they were just big doughy things, the junk-food equivalent of the "Stutenman." German gingerbread usually comes iced and on the crunchy side, sometimes with nuts ground into it, so this allergic person avoids them.
    But for good authentic Stutenmänner, try a bio bakery in Germany whenever there's a holiday.