December 6 is St. Nikolaus Day in Germany. Last night children put the biggest boot they could find outside their door. If they had been good during the year, Nikolaus brought them chocolate, fruit and small gifts. Those who had misbehaved, received coal and switches made from slender, flexible tree shoots. Once learned and experienced, our two children kept this tradition until they were much older. Their American friends wondered why St. Nikolaus didn’t visit them during the night of December 5-6.
We learned and kept many traditions from our two years in Germany when I had been a Fulbright teacher. Our Christmas lights at home in Upstate New York went up with the help of our son visiting from Florida when the weather was warm enough at Thanksgiving. We finally turned them on last week to celebrate the first week of Advent. We noticed more white lights and straw ornaments on Christmas trees in Germany. We also learned that stores closed early and remained closed for almost three days at Christmas. Presents were opened in the evening of December 24. It was also the first time that the tree was seen. Most families leave the tree up for the twelve days of Christmas. Some still use real candles on the tree. I brought a smoke detector with us to Germany and when I lit the real candles on the tree and watched for about ten minutes, the detector sounded.
As a surprise to me in Neresheim, Germany, my students put a wreath of fresh boughs in the middle of my desk at school and lit one candle in the middle. It was beautiful and quite unexpected, but I have to admit that my first thoughts were about fire safety. However, I thanked my students for this lovely tradition they were sharing with me. I noted it was so nice to have this reminder of Christmas in my classroom. After I had thanked the class, I told them that I couldn’t have this display in an American school because of fire hazards. That led to a further discussion of how many practice fire drills we have annually in US schools.
The teachers’ room had an Advent calendar with 25 wrapped candy bars hanging from various lengths of ribbon attached to a pole and suspended from the ceiling. On each candy bar was the name of a teacher who got to snip the candy off the pole. At home in the US again, we continued to use an Advent calendar. My children have always enjoyed the extra traditions we brought home with us and still celebrate and discuss today.
The food traditions remain with us as well. We eagerly look for the first Pfeffernuesse to appear at our supermarket and enjoy the tasty spiced gingerbread morsels. There is great comfort in traditions and rituals. Which ones do you have in your own family?