Christmas in Germany: Special Days Within Advent
In past eras various customs and superstitions attached themselves to the saints’days and other special days that fell during Advent. St. Andrew’s night November 30, presented young girls with the op-portunity to use folk magic to foresee their marital futures. One old superstition advised girls to wait up until midnight and throw a slip-per at the door. If the slipper landed with the toe pointing out the door, they would be leaving their parents’home for their husband’s home in the next year. St. Thomas’s Day, December 21, provided another opportunity for young women to exercise various fortune-telling charms. In past years St. Thomas’s night was also known as spinning night. Young women stayed up late into the night spinning thread that might be sold to help pay for Christmas expenses.
On St. Barbara’s Day, an old folk tradition recommended cutting branches from cherry trees and placing them in vases of water near the fire. If timed correctly these branches, known as "Barbara branches,” would bloom on Christmas or Christmas Eve.
St. Nicholas’s Day, December 6, offers children a preview of Christmas pleasures to come. On St. Nicholas’s Eve youngsters leave a shoe or a boot by the fireplace, window, or bedroom door. The next morning they find it filled with sweet treats. Although St. Nicholas usually disburses presents, German folklore warns that he will sometimes leave poorly behaved children a stick as a warning of punishment to come. St. Nicholas’s assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, usually performs the unpleasant task of disciplining naughty children.
The Knocking Nights—the last three Thursday nights in Advent — constitute a different sort of Christmas season observance. In some regions of Germany folk tradition encourages people to take to the streets making loud noises and wearing frightening masks on these nights. Folk rites designed to ward away evil spirits and influences were also practiced on these days.