December 6 is traditionally the Feast of St. Nicholas, so when our dedicated volunteer Rita Thomas discovered a book called Nikolaus, I thought it was perfect for this week's blog. As the image on the cover shows, the book seems very modern. This Nikolaus certainly resembles today’s Santa Claus, or Weihnachtmann (Christmas man) as he is known in Germany.
I couldn’t discover an exact date for the book, but it was produced in Nuremberg by a publishing house that specialized in illustrated books, Theo. Stroefer’s Kunstverlag. The poems are attributed to Jbo., but I couldn’t find anything on him (there is, however, a German metal band with the same name).
I have to admit, I found this a little confusing. It says “Nikolaus,” but the poems inside do not refer to St. Nicholas day, but clearly to Christmas. But I thought the Christkind delivered the Christmas presents in Germany. And where are all of St. Nicholas’s charming and terrifying traditional companions, like Krampus and the always popular Belznickel? This guy looks a lot like the “right jolly old elf” of Clement C. Moore’s poem and Thomas Nast’s illustrations.
Sleigh with reindeer: check.
Climbing down chimneys: check.
Stockings hung by chimney with care: check.
But none of these things are part of a German tradition. Luckily, Wikipedia is around to help me. You may never have heard of Theodor Stroefer, but he has his own Wikipedia page! In German. According to the article, Stroeder moved his business to Nuremberg in 1893. He died in 1927, so the book was produced between those two dates. In the 1860’s, however, he had been in New York for about five years. Could he have brought back a few ideas to Germany with him?
Of course, Stroefer was the publisher, not the illustrator. The lithographs are attributed to E. Nister of Nuremberg. He has an English language Wikipedia page and died in 1906, further narrowing down the date of the book. He had offices in both Nuremberg and London and was known for images of Father Christmas. The London connection might explain the plum pudding this image.
While there are no images of the angel-like Christkind (Christ child), he is mentioned in one of the poems. The Christkind was invented by Martin Luther during the Reformation to move Protestants away from the veneration of saints. So, instead of St. Nicholas bringing gifts on November 6, the Christ child brought gifts on Christmas Eve. The Christkind is also the origin of “Kris Kringle.”
This poem tells of the Christkind bringing many cute gifts like dolls, balls, and toy horses, and filling shoes with presents.
Although a Protestant invention, today the Christkind is most popular with German speaking Catholics in Germany and Austria.
While I can’t argue that this book has any direct connection to the county, except for once being owned by someone who lived here, its fun mish-mash of German, American, and English traditions is reflective of Montgomery’s county’s history.