Advent Customs: St. Nicholas Day


The von Trapp children
In 1926, Maria Kutschera, a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria was sent to the home of a retired navy Captain Von Trapp, a widower with seven children—pictured here in the photo—to teach one of his daughters Maria, who was recuperating from an illness. Here Maria describes her first Advent at the Villa Trapp.

Saint Nikolaus was a saintly bishop of the fourth century, and being always very kind and helpful to children and young people, God granted every year that on his feastday he might come down to the children.  He comes dressed in bishop’s vestments, with a mitre on his head and his bishop’s staff in his hand…The excitement was great on [December] the fifth.

Soon after dark we assembled in the hall, looking out through the large window into the driveway…Suddenly one could see the little flicker of candlelight through the bare bushes. A tall figure bearing a lantern and high staff turned into our driveway, followed by a little black fellow [the “Krampus”].

The heavy double-door opened wide, and in came the Holy Bishop, reverently greeted by young and old.  The white beard which cascaded down below his waist showed his old age.  Nobody could see that half an hour before, it had been plastered on Hans’s face with the help of the white of a raw egg…After he had sat down, he gave the Captain his lantern to hold, and then he produced from under his white cloak a large package with a big golden Cross…In this magic book were written down all the many crimes, big and little, which had been committed by the children of this house.  It was quite incredible how well-informed Saint Nikolaus was…

Saint Nikolaus shook his finger and frowned at the sinners as they were called to his feet.  They all felt very uncomfortable, and promised fervently to reform.  The Holy Bishop rose and waved his hand towards the door; a big sack was pushed in, which Saint Nikolaus opened.  There was a bag with fruit and candies for everybody…

(Maria Augusta Trapp: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, A.D. 1949.  Reproduced from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for June 12, 2009)

N.B.  The von Trapp family sang at Holy Trinity, the former home of the Boston area Latin Mass Community.