ST. NICHOLAS AND HIS HELPER
Saint Nicholas is known as the childrens' saint. For many years, St. Nicholas has brought small gifts and rewards to children who were kind and helpful. A number of years ago, he began to distribute gifts to adults as well. St. Nicholas is usually pictured wearing a bishop's robe and mitre and carrying a bishop's staff. He goes out into German homes and takes gifts to the children. The gifts are loaded into a big sack which is carried by his helper. St. Nicholas often questions children about their behavior. He may ask about things such as their school work, their church attendance, and their willingness to obey their parents. Other questions may focus on their ambition or willingness to work rather than be lazy.|
Traditionally, children in Germany have been told many tales about St. Nicholas's helper. The helper may be dressed all in black, usually in furs, old clothing, or even rags. Some families threaten their children with the idea that this helper will either take back their gifts, leave them only a piece of coal in their shoe, or perhaps leave a switch or bundle of sticks for whipping if they do not behave properly.
St. Nicholas and his helper have brought their gifts for children on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. The people in some areas of Germany do not expect St. Nicholas to pay a personal visit, but rather they put their shoes out when they go to bed on the evening of December 5th, and the saint pays his visit during the night. In those homes where shoes are left to be filled, they are usually found waiting near the fireplace if there is one available, or under the beds of the children, or even next to the stove or some other sort of heater.
In some areas of Germany, St. Nicholas is called by other names, such as Rauklas, Bullerklassor, or Sunnerklas. His helper has even more names, and those names depend on where in Germany you happen to ask. Among the popular helper names are Krampus, Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Hans Muff, Bartel, Gumphinkel, Stoppklos, Black Pit, or very frequently Knecht Ruprecht.
Over the centuries, many tales and stories have grown up about St. Nicholas and his helpers, and they make an interesting research project for youngsters.