Friday, December 19, 2008

Nikolaus, Knecht Ruprecht, and the "Cheeky" Girl

In past posts, I've written about Saint Nikolaus Eve, both in the early centuries and in more recent times. But I can't resist one more St. Nikolaus story, this one from perhaps 50 or so years ago. You've probably heard of the film "The Nightmare before Christmas." This one could be called "The Nightmare before St. Nikolaus Day". A woman who lived in Irsch as a child and experienced a fearsome Nikolaus visit tells her story like this:

The Nikolaus Eve at our Home

For my siblings and me, the observance of Nikolaus Eve was full of stress because Nikolaus brought his assistant, the servant Ruprecht (Knecht-Ruprecht in German*). And he left behind a very fearful impression on me.

Now the evening was here and the banging and chain rattling on the wooden steps outside our door were so great that it was frightening and we were afraid. The kitchen door was flung open with great force and Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht came inside.

Knecht Ruprect's red tongue showed all the while because he let it hang out of his mouth. On his back he lugged a sack that was so big that a child would fit inside. Two long, stuffed stockings with shoes sewed to them were stuck to the outside of the bag, a sight that scared me stiff because I thought I would be stuck to the bag in the same way. I started to bawl.

Nikolaus took his big book and quickly leafed through it as if he already knew what the devil had written in it. He looked at me and then said that I had been rude to my Aunt Lena. And he had observed that, in the street, I was a cheeky child. He was going to take me with him, just as I had feared. But before he took me away, I should pray the "Our Father."

As I finished the Our Father, Knecht Ruprecht tugged at me. But I held on to the cutlery drawer. I pulled on it with force and it swung out of the cupboard with a dreadful clanging.

My grandma came down the stairs and helped me out of my jam. In that moment, I loved my grandma more than ever.

As a punishment, Nikolaus gave me a stick and he and Ruprecht started away. But my grandma wasn't finished with them; she snatched a gift from Nikolaus. Face beaming, she brought it to me

Thus ends the story submitted by Hedwig Rice to the monthly Irsch internet newsletter - sent free to subscribers with an interest in reading it.

My family, descended from ancestors who once lived in Irsch, also celebrated St. Nicholas Eve. After reading Frau Rice's story, I'm grateful that St. Nicholas came alone to our Wisconsin farm home and the only sound we heard was of his sleighbells. Never did our cutlery drawer suffer from a visit from St. Nicholas!

*For more on the history of Sankt Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht, use the search box at the top of the page.