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St. Nikolaus--A German Advent Tradition

St. Nikolaus Visits Lebanon Valley College German Class

By M.L. ZENGERLE. For the Daily News (Dec. 8, 1996)

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nikolaus.jpg (12895 bytes) Tammy Brightbill gets to pick two pieces of candy. Lebanon, PA. Someone's been keeping lists of who's been naughty or nice, but it hasnt been Santa -- it's Professor Leoni Hambourg, who teaches   German at Lebanon Valley College.

Hambourg made her list of good/bad students in preparation for the visit of St. Nikolaus on Friday to her classroom. December 6th is the feast day of St. Nicholas ( or St. Nikolaus if you're from Germany)--and the day in that country when children receive candy and small goodies from the kindly bishop.

But first the children undergo an evaluation, and if their behavior falls below acceptable standards,

they might not only miss out on the sweets, they might get a paddling from St. Nikolaus' little helper, Knecht Ruprecht.

On Friday, that tradition arrived in the classrooms of Hambourg and Professor James Scott, with help from the Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor of Avon Zion United Methodist Church, who portrayed St. Nikolaus, Bishop of Myra, in red robes, miter, and sceptre.

Schaefer was aided by LVC freshman Jenn Gottleib, a German manor who wore a black robe and had the honor of whacking fellow students whose behavior didn't measure up. The entire ritual was conducted in German, as St. Nikolaus would select a student, and Hambourg would read off their virtues and shortcomings from the lists she had compiled.

If the Bishop decided a student was in need of some corrective action, and ordered, "Aufstehen!" (stand up), they knew they were in for it, and Knecht Ruprecht would swing into action. "Good" students, however, got to pick a chocolate from the Bishop's basket. "Er hat gelogen"' was the verdict for student Matthew Hintz.

Translation: Hintz supposedly told a fib. Without waiting for Hintz’ side of the story, Ruprecht gave him a Iight dusting.  "Immer spaet,' or late for class, was all that was necessary for student Tammy Brightbill to meet with Ruprecht's willow switch. But student Kelly Sonon has been so good through the year that she received an extra piece of candy.

James Franklyn had to sing "Stille Nacht" for the Bishop because he's a music major. Then, the entire class sang "0 Tannenbaum."

"Sehr gut" pronounced the bishop on their singing talents. A native of Germany, Pastor Schaefer is quite familiar with the visits of St. Nikolaus on Dec. 6. "It's the closest thing to Santa that we have," Schaefer said. "We don't have Santa Claus; he's more of a Scandinavian tradition from SinterKlaus. In fact I remember those times quite well when St. Nikolaus would interrogate the children, and that was a little scary for us."

Schaefer explained that St. Nikolaus represents the compassion of God while his companion, Knecht Ruprecht (Knecht meaning "servant") represents the wrath of God, punishing sins. "Santa Claus in America, only has the good side," Schaefer, noted.

The tradition of St. Nikolaus has been around for a good many centuries: the bishop died in 324, and had been known for his generosity. He has become the patron saint of students, seafarers, merchants and bakers.

In Germany, the good Bishop fills the children's boots with candies and other goodies if they leave their boots by the front door. However, candy is only left for kids who have been good Schaefer said. Usually, a family member of the family, perhaps an uncle, dresses up as St. Nikolaus, comes into the family gathering and questions the children on their conduct and behavior.

Then, he bestows the candy, exhorts the children to be on their best behavior for the coming year and leaves. The kids can then relax until next Dec. 6th.  German children do get presents for Christmas, Schaefer said, explaining that the "Christkind," the Christ Child brings gifts on Christmas Eve.

Schaefer as the Bishop and his switch-wielding elf saw about 100 students in four German classes on Friday, and 'they also visited other faculty and administration.

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