Heaven Help Us, He's Making a List!

The other day I spent an evening with a German friend baking traditional German Christmas goodies, which turned out to be sweet and pleasant. As I was baking them, however, my friend related several other German Christmas traditions which seem neither sweet nor pleasant. Indeed, Christmastime in Germany appears to be deplorably troglodytic, a time where parents wander from house to house prostrating themselves before Christmas trees in exchange for alcohol while their children are left eating out of shoes and begging not to be beaten with sticks. This holiday hell starts on December 6th in Germany, when St. Nicholas cavorts merrily about the country during dead of night and forces children to eat candies and assorted sweets from their grubby shoes--this from the patron saint of children, mind you. And yes, I do realize that Americans receive candies in glorified socks, but at least we've evolved to the point where we make the stockings specifically for the occasion; German children eat out of the same pair of Pumas they've been schwitzting in for God only knows how long.

After the requisite hospitalization for half of Germany's youth, they are then forced to beg for their very lives from the most vile of Christmas characters: the Weihnactsmann. Though this so-called "Christmas Man" may look very similar to the Coca-Cola Santa Claus we've all come to know and love, he is in fact nothing of the sort--unless you consider child abuse and living a nomadic life in the forest part of your vaunted holiday tradition, of course.

Each year the beleaguered children meet with the Weihnactsmann not so much to ask for presents, but to plead with him to spare the rod. Here's the delightful poem the quivering little tykes must recite to him every year:

Lieber guter Weihnachtsmann (Dear Kind Christmas Man) Shau mich nicht so böse an. (Don't look so displeased at me) Stecke deine Rute ein. (Put away your rods) Ich will immer artig sein. (I want to always be good)

And why might Weihnactsmann be brandishing rods? Why to beat naughty children with them, of course! While Santa Claus' most pernicious gesture to the naughtiest among us is to leave us with a lump of coal (which, after all, might confer some utility when burned), Weihnactsmann relishes in corporal punishment. You see, the Weihnactsmann doesn't live in the North Pole, he lives in the Black Forest...alone. So, just like any old man who lives alone in the forest, Weihnactsmann spends his year collecting willow branches and biding his time until Christmas Eve, whereupon he can utilize his weapons of choice by putting a beat-down on the naughties.

At first, German parents tried smearing the blood of an unblemished lamb on their doorposts to keep the Weihnactsmann away, and when this didn't work, tried leaving milk and cookies in an attempt to placate his bloodlust. After these both repeatedly failed, however, they invented Christbaumloben in resigned despair, a tradition that sees parents going from house to house loudly praising each other's Christmas trees in exchange for a drink of hard liquor. The hope is that the combination of alcohol and hyperbolic praise will help to drown out the wails of their children as they are beaten mercilessly with willow sticks by the Weihnactsmann. Thus ends the German Christmas celebration--and the lives of an estimated 13 percent of Germans each year under the age of 16 .

Though I've been told the Weihnactsmann is only able to visit and abuse those children who are of German blood, I'm taking no chances--my train ticket to Eastern Europe is already booked.