Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A lump of coal, some chocolates, & a stein krug of beer: Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

My siblings and I grew up in Germany in the 1960s, children of U.S. Foreign Service parents. (My two older brothers had other, earlier, foreign postings with my parents, but that's another story.)

Every year, on the evening of the 5th of December —the evening before St. Nicholas Day— we would put a pair of wooden shoes outside our bedroom doors. Overnight, an unseen, be-sainted visitor would fill our shoes with chocolates and other goodies ... if we had been good. If we had been bad, we might receive only a lump of coal.

Happy St. Nicholas Day! (02)

My brothers had a Märklin model train set. Once (just once!), little Tommy found his shoe filled with a lump of coal. Unperturbed, little Tommy put the lump in the coal car behind the locomotive. He was ecstatic. It was the coolest thing. It was "ace"! To his parents' (err, St. Nicholas') chagrin, he hadn't been chastised.

In a —not so politically correct— postscript, a Moorish sidekick of St. Nicholas was to abduct mischievous children, and take them to Spain. If you know northern German winters, this threatened punishment, in retrospect, would not have been so bad.

St. Nicholas of Myra

In the Catholic Church, Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers. The reason why, however, is not so clear. David Turley at Musings Over A Pint posted this explanation:
Tradition states that Nicholas [Bishop of Myra] was having a beer at an inn where the inn keeper had murdered three boys and packed their bodies in a barrel of brine. Nicholas was offered some salted meat with his beer. Due to a local shortage of food, Nicholas became suspicious, found the bodies, and brought the boys back to life. He died on December 6, 345 A.D. or 352 A.D.

St. Nicholas eventually became the inspiration for the American Santa Claus.

Many years after that delivery of a lump of coal, I fondly remember a Christmas Eve in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

My stepdaughter placed a gift by the Christmas tree for Old Saint Nick. She didn't leave a shoe or cookie (or coal!), but a full seidel of beer, poured by her Mom. In the morning, the stone mug was empty. All those world-wide deliveries must have left Saint Nicholas thirsty.

Santa's Cheer Beer

  • Not part of this story (!), St. Nicholas is also considered the patron saint of prostitutes. Brewers keep fine company.
    In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.
  • More Catholic patron saints of beer: To Whom is a Brewster to Pray?

  • For more from YFGF:

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