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European-American Topics - Culture - Nikolaus

Nikolaus gaining ground here but losing it in Vienna
By the Austrian-American Council, WA State
Posted December 10, 2006

          Last week The Seattle Times carried an article by The Associated Press about the cancellation of St. Nikolaus visits to Kindergarten children in Vienna. Concerns by municipal officials and the population range from possible negative psychological effect on children to political correctness. Once again reactions differ, just as opinions pro and con have been voiced for a long time.

            In the larger Seattle area, the traditional Nikolaus custom as it is known in the Alpine regions, appears to be gaining more ground. Some of us transplanted German-speaking immigrants still nurture the child in us and treasure the memory of a visit by Saint Nikolaus. The magic of it by far outweighed the modest gift of apples, a few nuts, perhaps an orange, and the traditional Nikolaus or Krampus Lebkuchen. Yes, I remember reverence in the air - scented baked goods in the oven and incense - and waiting with both, awe and joy. Especially the noise of chains or bells announcing the appearance of the Krampus, who might cower in a corner with his sack and his swaths of birch branches as spanking tools, inspired fear. Yet, the Nikolaus was so heavenly, so kind, he knew about some of my flawed behavior patterns, but he praised the prayer or poem I uttered. In my childhood days praise was not a given and thus a heart-warming experience. The old custom has always centered on good and evil, on reward and punishment. Good or bad, with slight adaptations, the custom lasts. Some of us immigrants wish to introduce our children or grandchildren to experience this rarely encountered joy and magic. Most Austrian and many German and Swiss organizations throughout the USA feature Nikolaus visits.

            In Seattle, only the Seattle German Language School has featured a Nikolaus for many years. This year marks the third traditional Nikolaus visit at the Eastside German Language School in Issaquah with ca 80 students. Last year a Spielgruppe in Seattle initiated such a visit, and this year the Seattle Kinderstube on the Eastside also arranged a visit at a Nikolaus Brunch. Visits in private immigrant homes go back a long time. At our house the first Nikolaus visit to our daughters dates back to 1967 in San Francisco, and for our grandchildren, friends and neighbors in Bellevue to 2001.

            One added reason for the spreading interest could be that the Austrian-American Council arrived at assembling a fairly authentic costume, including a fancy tunic, a great-looking mitra and an impressive bishop’s staff, and occasionally loans it out. As one school reported: “It was the best Nikolaus event ever!”

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