Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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improved methods of agriculture and other causes made earl] December, rather than mid-November, the time for the great annual slaughter and its attendant rejoicings. Like St. Martin he brings sweet things for the good children and rods for the bad.
St. Nicholas's Eve is a time of festive stir in Holland and Belgium ; the shops are full of pleasant little gifts : many-shaped biscuits, gilt gingerbreads, sometimes representing the saint, ra images, toys, and other trifles. In many places, when evening comes on, people dress up as St. Nicholas, with mitre and pastoral staff, enquire about the behaviour of the children, and if it has been good pronounce a benediction and promise them a reward next morning. Before they go to bed the children put out their shoes, with hay, straw, or a carrot in them for the saint's white horse or ass. When they wake in the morning, if they have been " good " the fodder is gone and sweet things or toys are in its place; if they have misbehaved themselves the provender is untouched and no gift but a rod is there.37
In various parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria St. Nicholas is mimed by a man dressed up as a bishop.38 In Tyrol children pray to the saint on his Eve and leave out hay for his white horse and a glass of schnaps for his servant. And he comes in all the splendour of a church-image, a reverend grey-haired figure with flowing beard, gold-broidered cope, glittering mitre, and pastoral staff. Children who know their catechism are rewarded with sweet things out of the basket carried by his servant ; those who cannot answer are reproved, and St. Nicholas points to a terrible form that stands behind him with a rod—the hideous Klaubauf, a shaggy monster with horns, black face, fiery eyes, long red tongue, and chains that clank as he moves.39
In Lower Austria the saint is followed by a similar figure called Krampus or Grampus ;.4o in Styria this horrible attendant is named Bartel ; 4» all are no doubt related to such monsters as the Klapperbock (see Chapter VII.). Their heathen origin is evident though it is difficult to trace their exact pedigree. Sometimes St. Nicholas himself appears in a non-churchly form like Pclzmartc, with a bell,42 or with a sack of ashes which gains him the name of Aschenklas.43
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