Year-end slapstick hits the Germans' funnybone like nothing else.
Expats and migrants are often adept at picking up the local lingo and many have no great difficulty adapting to new climes and cultures. Yet when it comes to customs and conventions, the nitty gritty of daily life, they can still come a cropper. I arrived in Germany able to speak the language fluently. But it took ages to realise that a tersely uttered 'danke' really means 'nein danke'. And that a long-drawn out 'neeein' actually translates as 'ja'.
Anyway, that's Miss Sophie, butler and birthday guests sorted. But I still get confused by this whole Father Christmas thing in Germany. Children here are gifted by either baby Jesus, known as Christkindl, or Nikolaus. I sometimes mix these characters up, mistaking them for one and the same. First I ever heard about Nikolaus was at my first job in Bonn, when we all turned up on 6 December to find that the Head of Department had left a chocolate Nikolaus on everybody’s desk. German bosses follow this custom every Advent, supposedly in honour of Bishop Nikolaus of Myra, famed for helping the needy around 325 AD. After his death, word of the gift-giving legacy spread, slowly transforming man and image into the modern-day Father Christmas – and his chocolate namesake. The Christkindl, on the other hand, originates from Luther’s time. Ironically, it was Protestants’ attempt to de-bunk this whole Catholic celebration of Saint Nicholas on December 6th.
Only a week into Advent and we get a bit of a fright. Darkness is falling when a sudden thud at the front door makes us almost jump out of our skins. Peering out through the window we spot the shape of a ginormous figure plodding up our garden path.
Dating back over 1000 years, Krampus’ sole role is to flag up naughty kids to Santa, before dragging them off to the underworld. Well, that’s the parents’ version, at least. Unofficially, he’s just an uncouth guardian angel, scary enough to put the wind up you. Like some Simon-Cowell-type ‘X-Factor’ judge. German readers - just think Dieter Bohlen.
You HAVE been gut, haven't you?
We come face to face again with Krampus and Nikolaus the very next day. It’s the duo’s annual appearance at the village Christkindlmarkt and I’ve just committed the classic yuletide blooper in the company of Bavarians – I’ve foolishly referred to Nikolaus as the Weihnachtsmann. Something only a Prussian would dare do. Well, it is all a bit chaotic and I’m trying to take a picture of Tildy shaking the old man's hand while an army of kids keep prodding me impatiently from behind. I can hear some of them quietly tut-tutting and one little boy politely corrects me:
'Tja. Und machst Du oiwei des wos da Leahr sogt?’
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