22 December 2018

International Christmas: "Knecht Ruprecht"

"Knecht Ruprecht" is the most famous poem written by Theodor Storm, North Freisan poet and author. In parts of Germany, St. Nicholas, or the Christkindlein (Christ-child) is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht. "Knecht" means "servant." From a website dedicated to Storm: "Historically, Ruprecht was a dark sinister figure clad in a tattered robe with a big sack on his back in which, legend has it, he will place all naughty children. In Storm’s poem, Knecht Ruprecht is featured with a cane with which to chastise such children." Today we joke about coal in the stocking, but parents back in the 19th century were strict enough to deprive naughty children of a Christmas gift and even to given them a gift of a switch or leave an empty stocking if their behavior is unchanged.

From out the forest I now appear,
To proclaim that Christmastide is here!
For at the top of every tree
are golden lights for all to see;
and there from Heaven’s gate on high
I saw our Christ-child in the sky.

And in among the darkened trees,
a loud voice it was that called to me:
‘Knecht Ruprecht, old fellow,’ it cried,
‘hurry now, make haste, don’t hide!
All the candles have now been lit --
Heaven’s gate has opened wide!

Both young and old should now have rest
away from cares and daily stress;
and when tomorrow to earth I fly
“it’s Christmas again!” will be the cry.’

And then I said: ‘O Lord so dear.
My journey’s end is now quite near;
but to this town* I’ve still to go,
Where the children are good, I know.’

‘But have you then that great sack?’
‘I have,’ I said, ‘it’s on my back.
For apples, almonds, fruit and nuts
For God-fearing children are a must.’

‘And is that cane there by your side?’
‘The cane’s there too,’ I did reply;
but only for those, those naughty ones,
who have it applied to their backsides.’
The Christ-child spoke: ‘Then that’s all right!
My loyal servant, go with God this night!’

From out the forest I now appear;
To proclaim that Christmastide is here!
Now speak, what is there here to be had?
Are there good children, are there bad?

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