Here Comes Krampus (and St. Nicholas)

The 6th of December brings St. Nicholas’ Day, but the 5th brings the Eve of St. Nicholas, the traditional night when St. Nick delivers presents to children in the lands where he is loved… especially Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, and the Netherlands. He is the first of the midwinter gift bearers, wending his way through these darkest nights.

On the Eve of St. Nicholas, the old bishop will make his rounds. Wise children will place their shoes by the chimney before going to bed in hopes that St. Nicholas will fill them with gifts. They’ll set out carrots and hay for his donkey. If they’ve been good, they might wake up on St. Nicholas’ Day to find their shoes filled with fruits and nuts and sweets and small toys. But St. Nicholas does not wander alone; he travels tonight with a dark companion. The companion goes by many names, depending on the region––Knecht Ruprecht, Black Peter, Pelznickel… but he is best known as Krampus: half man, half goat, horned and furry, with an astonishingly long tongue. St. Nicholas, dressed in his bishop’s robes and hat, concerns himself with the good children. Krampus deals with the naughty ones. He carries chains or birch switches and oftentimes a sack, in which he gathers up the bad children who deserve nothing more than to be carried away. It’s a bit terrifying, but also good fun––especially in the Krampusnacht parades that feature both St. Nick and Krampus.

I love the time of the Midwinter gift bearers. Such a beautiful way to make these darkest nights somewhat less dark (despite Krampus). St. Nicholas will be followed over the next few weeks by the Christkindl, by Santa Lucia, by Father Christmas and Santa Claus, by los Tres Reyes (the Three Kings) and a kind old witch named Befana who will sweep away the remnants of the Christmas season in early January.

But that’s all a long ways away. For us tonight here in this little old house in Lake Worth, we will leave our shoes by the bed, which we always do. Our small old home has small old closets, and so we almost always have a couple of pairs of shoes outside the closet––there’s just no place in the closet to put them. I don’t know if St. Nicholas and Krampus will make their way this far from Europe, but chances are good that once we go to bed, Haden the Convivio shop cat will spend some time hunting down her little stuffed animal toys, carrying them about and making the odd cries that cats make once they have caught their quarry, and maybe tonight she will drop one of them into someone’s shoe, as she is wont to do so many nights. But before those magic overnight hours, we will brew ourselves some tea, or maybe some mulled wine, and we will for sure open a package of Steenstra’s St. Claus cookies, like we do each year on this night. The cookies are speculaas, a type of Dutch cookie made for St. Nicholas’ Eve. They sell them all year long at the Publix bakery in a small cellophane-wrapped package. The cellophane is clear and the box inside is bright orange. The Steenstra family emigrated from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1926, and that’s where the cookies are still made, as they have been for about 90 years now. They taste of almond and warm spices like ginger and clove, and they depict five different scenes about St. Claus (more correctly about St. Nicholas of Myra, the kind fourth century bishop who gave gifts to the poor while they slept). There is St. Claus on a horse (a derivation of that donkey), a boy and a girl (because they like to receive presents from St. Claus), a rooster (because St. Claus starts his day at sunup), an owl (because St. Claus works til sundown), and a windmill (because St. Claus lives in a windmill).

So whether you be visited by St. Nicholas or by Krampus, or by a cat that drops presents in your shoes, tonight something special is bound to happen. Enter the gift bearers onto the midwinter stage––there is good reason to celebrate this night.

Images: Steenstra’s St. Claus cookies. At the top, a late 19th century or early 20th century Krampusnacht postcard from Germany.

COME SEE US THIS WEEKEND!
We’re at the Christkindlmarkt at the American German Club all weekend long!

Christkindlmarkt
Saturday & Sunday December 7 & 8 (2 to 9 PM on Saturday; 1 to 8 PM on Sunday)
at the American German Club
5111 Lantana Road in suburban Lake Worth
Convivio Bookworks will be part of this old time European style Christmas market at the American German Club, west of the town of Lantana. At our booth you’ll find traditional handmade German Christmas items, and plenty of other handmade items from our Swedish and Mexican collections, too, as well as Shaker herbs & teas, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

 

Dispel the Night: Your December Book of Days

The Twelfth Month of the year has arrived. It’s December, last of the Ember Months. It is the time of greatest darkness in the Northern Hemisphere. As such, it is a month filled with light of our own making: the illuminated lights on our houses, the candles burning in our advent wreaths and menorahs and kinaras and on the wreaths worn by Lucias in Sweden in their processions through dark churches, accompanied by girls dressed all in white, carrying candles, and by star boys, in white as well, with candles and conical caps on their heads. Such long long nights, and yet so much illumination, dispelling the darkness. This is the theme of December.

And here is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for December, as well. Light is our cover star, in the form of the advent wreath, so rich with meaning. Each Sunday, we light one more candle. The nights of December grow darker and darker, and we respond with more and more light: that light of our own making, the light of hope and love and kindness. Indeed we are reminded this month, over and over again, that we are given the opportunity to be light bearers, in how we respond to the darkness and to each other. It’s in our hands.

Tomorrow brings, as well, the first of the midwinter gift bearers: the 5th brings the Eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, and the good saint travels far and wide delivering presents… often accompanied by dark companions, known as Krampus, Pelznickel, Black Peter, or Knecht Ruprecht, depending on where you are. Darkness and light: close companions. Leave out your shoes, and fill them with sweet hay and carrots for St. Nicholas’ donkey!

COME SEE US!
We’re popping up at quite a few local South Florida venues through mid December. The big event this weekend? The Christkindlmarkt at the American German Club!

Real Mail Fridays: Winter Card Writing Social
Friday December 6 from noon to 6 PM
at Jaffe Center for Book Arts in the Library at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road in Boca Raton
There’ll be a mini Makers Marketplace at this annual event so you can do a little shopping, but also bring your Christmas cards and Hanukkah cards and New Year cards and get the task of writing them started (or tackled) in a festive environment with other like minded souls. Great fun!

Christkindlmarkt
Saturday & Sunday December 7 & 8 (2 to 9 PM on Saturday; 1 to 8 PM on Sunday)
at the American German Club
5111 Lantana Road in suburban Lake Worth
Convivio Bookworks will be part of this old time German Christmas market at the American German Club, west of the town of Lantana. At our booth you’ll find traditional handmade German Christmas items, and plenty of other handmade items from our Swedish and Mexican collections, too, as well as Shaker herbs & teas, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

Undiscovered: An Inclusive Arts Festival
Saturday December 14 from 10 AM to 4 PM (but we have to pack up by 3!)
at Palm Beach Habilitation Center
4522 South Congress Avenue in Lake Worth
We’re so excited to take part in this inaugural arts fair at the Hab Center, which does such wonderful work helping folks with disabilities become more independent through training and employment. There are art projects that EVERYONE can participate in, and there’s a pop up market; we’ll be there with lots of great artisan goods from our catalog.

Holiday Night Market
Saturday December 14 from 4 to 8 PM
at Social House
512 Lucerne Avenue in Downtown Lake Worth
It’s always a special night at Social House. We’ll be showing our Christmas artisan goods and Shaker teas (and my mom’s famous candy wreaths). One of our favorite markets at one of our favorite places!

Midwinter Makers Marketplace
Sunday December 15 from 10 AM to 4 PM
at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road in Boca Raton
It’s full swing yuletide and we’ll be showing our handmade artisan Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany, Sweden, and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more (like my mom’s famous candy wreaths). Plus there’s live music almost all day: Ella Herrera from 10 to 1 and Rio Peterson from 1 to 4. Look for the blue & white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs on FAU campus roads.

Revelry Sip & Shop
Sunday December 15 from 1 to 6 PM
at Revelry Lake Worth
17 South J Street in Downtown Lake Worth
Find us in the courtyard with our handmade Christmas artisan goods and Shaker herbs and teas and more (including my mom’s famous candy wreaths again!). They’re serving mimosas!

 

Preparing

Preparing

Today, the First of December, begins the Advent season, a time of preparation for Christmas. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the nights grow increasingly darker on the road toward the Winter Solstice, and we counter that increasing darkness by increasing light from within. The sun may be growing weaker, sinking lower and lower in the sky, but each Sunday, beginning tonight, we light more and more candles in our homes. The tradition in most places is a ring of four candles, three of which are purple, one rose (or pink). Some cultures use three blue candles and a white one in place of the purple and rose candles, but the sentiment is the same. The first purple candle is lit tonight, on the First Sunday of Advent: one candle in the darkness. Come the Second Sunday, we light two purple candles. The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday and we light those same two purple candles plus the rose one, to symbolize a hint of joy and greater excitement as we get closer to Christmas. And on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, all four candles are lit. By then, we are deep into the darkest nights of the year, and our four candles are quite a beacon of light, and of hope.

This year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent happens to be the day after the Winter Solstice, which will occur on the 21st of December: the bleak Midwinter. In our brightly illuminated 21st century world, it can be easy to fall out of sync with the ever changing push and pull of our planet’s cycles of darkness and light, but it is this constant rearrange that is at the heart of so many of our customs and celebrations, the ceremonies of each day. Imagine a time before electricity, and it’s easy to understand the power of these cycles.

Earlier on, Advent began on the 12th of November, the day after Martinmas, and was a time of fasting in the Catholic Church in preparation for Christmas. This is no longer the case, even in the Church, but the idea of preparation, making our homes (and hearts) as fair as we are able, continues. In this house, we are firm believers in the idea that in order to fully appreciate the joy of Christmas, you need to set the stage for needing joy. This is the value of Advent. It doesn’t matter if your approach is a religious one or a secular one. Advent is a good time to do things with care. It’s a good time to make amends. If there are wrongs in your life, it’s a good time to make things right. Approach these darkening nights with this spirit of openness and thanksgiving and your joy at Christmastime, when it arrives, will be great indeed.

I wrote this as Advent began back in 2013. What astounds me most is that I’ve been writing this Book of Days as long as that. Also, that the dates are all the same: Advent begins this year on December 1, Midwinter Solstice arrives this year on December 21, Fourth Sunday of Advent this year falls, as it did in 2013, the day after solstice. If you still need advent candles or calendars, we can ship to you via US Priority Mail, which takes two days to most domestic destinations, so you’ll have just a little catching up to do. Check the catalog. Lots of great new Christmas items, too… new pyramids and smokers from Germany, and a brand new line of contemporary handmade artisan goods for Christmas from Sweden. Yule love it all!