An English friend of mine was recently extolling the virtues of a German Christmas. I had to concur. The Season of Goodwill is still something special here and monumental efforts are made to keep it so, with mulled wine (Glühwein) obviously playing a large part. Nevertheless, as with most things in life, things are not always as rosy as they seem.....
The 6th December is a BIG day for German youngsters. Sankt Nikolaustag (Saint Nicholas Day) is basically like an early Christmas and an excuse for already sugar-fueled kids to top up their glucose levels and behave like a 33 played 78. Tradition dictates that the evening before, they clean a pair of boots and place them by the front door. During the night Sankt Nikolaus will fill up said boots with little presents, sweets, biscuits and fruit for them to find, wide-eyed, in the morning. But, and here's the drag, ONLY if the child has been good.
I was flabbergasted to learn that Sankt Nikolaus (who as far as I can understand cannot be distinguished from Father Christmas) is not just the magical and enchanting bearded old man who brings happiness to the lives of the world's small people. Here in Germany he is also a child beater!
Seriously. The man carries with him "eine Rute" or a birch with which the unfortunate kid, who has failed to measure up to his standards of acceptable behaviour - and he just knows - gets a sound thrashing! I was staggered and found the whole thing scandalous. I argued that it would be a great way for Jack Bauer to torture terrorists, threatening to tell their kids that Father Christmas will wallop them with a stick if they are not good. It didn't go down well.
It should be mentioned in the interests of fairness that German children seem to accept the depraved, child abusing Father Christmas as read and don't appear, at least outwardly, to be suffering from any kind of Yuletide Stress Syndrome.
Finje, having been pre-warned about the consequences of stepping out of line by a "kindly" kindergarden colleague, promptly came home and burst into tears at the first mention of Nikolaus. Having recovered from my bewilderment, I asked what the problem was. "Father Christmas will me with a stick hit" (still practicing the English).
I think I managed to convince her, before she could ring Esther Ranzen, that being half English she would surely be visited by the English Santa who "will her certainly not with a stick beat!"
That evening, whilst suffering another of Finje's periodic hissy fits, I did wonder if the German way had something going for it.
Are there any more scary Christmas traditions I should be aware of?