Santa’s Back in Town

Story and photo by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

On Tuesday, Germans will observe “Nikolaustag,” or Santa Claus Day. Traditionally, on the night of Dec. 5 children will place their boots outside their rooms so Santa can fill them during the night with candy, cookies, nuts, oranges and little gifts.

The day is observed in honor of Saint Nikolaus, who was bishop of Myra, Asia Minor, during the fourth century. Nikolaus was born around A.D. 270 in Patras. Two-hundred years after he died on Dec. 6, 345, he was canonized.

As the patron of children, he is one of the most favored saints. Legend says he once restored to life three little boys who were killed by an evil innkeeper, cut up and preserved in barrels of vinegar. Nikolaus found them and put them together and, after saying a prayer, the boys came back to life.

Saint Nikolaus is also known as patron of skippers, because he was able to calm down stormy seas and save sailors’ lives.

At the age of 19, his uncle, the bishop of Myra, ordained him. The new priest was then put into the monastery of Sion as abbot. When his parents died of the plague, he inherited all their property and gave it to the poor. That’s why in another legend, Nikolaus became the patron of maidens. He saved three daughters of a poor family from becoming prostitutes for not having a dowry. One night, he secretly dropped bags of gold through their windows so the girls would be able to marry. Actually, he helped a lot of needy people by quietly giving gifts.

Nowadays, besides visiting families at home, Santa Claus makes his appearance in kindergartens where he recites each child’s name out of his golden book and mentions if the child behaved well or not. The children have to sing him a song before they receive chocolate and sweets. Some children fear him because he might bring them a rod to let them know they didn’t behave well throughout the year. But usually the rod is hung with sweets and is supposed to remind children of their bad behavior.

Nikolaus’ costume varies from place to place. In some German regions he is dressed like a bishop with mitre and bishop’s crook and is accompanied by “Knecht Rupprecht,” a shabbily dressed peasant who carries the sack of toys and treats, flourishes bundles of rods and threatens punishment to naughty children. In the Pfalz area, he appears mostly in a red robe and a peaked cap and has a long white beard. He is a friendly old man, who accepts children’s Christmas wish lists and asks children to promise to change for the better.

Santa Claus will make his appearance at the ice skating rink from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday in the event hall of the Gartenschau.

He also will be on tour with a reindeer, passing out candy, from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Kaiserslautern Christmas market. 

The Zoo in Kaiserslautern-Siegelbach will offer a guided tour for children with Santa Claus at 3 p.m. Besides making stops at the different compounds to see various animals, the children get to see a nativity scene with live animals.