In past times, German folk beliefs alleged that evil spirits and witches accomplished many acts of mischief on Thursday nights during Advent. This belief may have faded, but the German Knocking Nights remain. Klöpfelnachte, or “Knocking Nights,” takes place on one or all of the last three Thursday nights during Advent. In parts of Upper and Lower Bavaria and rural zones of south GERMANY, groups of costumed children parade through the streets of town on these nights, ringing cowbells, cracking whips, rattling tin cans, and tossing pebbles against windows (see also MUMMING). They march from house to house knocking on doors, reciting rhymes, and asking for GIFTS in return. Sometimes this request takes the form of shoving a pitchfork through the open doorway and singing a song that praises the householders. Family members then place a gift, such as an item of food, on one of the tines of the pitchfork.
In other cases, the knockers toss a small present in through the open door and dash away, leaving the occupants to guess the sender’s identity. These anonymous gifts, called Klöpfelscheit, resemble the JULKLAPP tossed through open doors and windows in Scandinavia. The noisemaking element of this traditional celebration finds echo in numerous other European Christmas customs.