Training as a substitute saint: How to become certified Nikolaus

A Nikolaus visit in his childhood catholic.de editor Matthias Altmann so scared that he has to nibble on it today. Now he has faced his fear and let himself train for Santa Claus.

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As I make my way to Cologne on a rainy Saturday morning in mid-November, I must inevitably think of that fateful Christmas eve over 20 years ago. It was the first time that Santa came to our home – and it was to be the only time. I was so afraid of this threatening man in red and with the mask on my face that my parents renounced a repetition out of consideration for my childlike mind.

I was five years old then. To this day I sometimes have a queasy feeling when I meet a Santa Claus in the Advent season . I see him as the awesome character of my childhood, intimidated by threats and the “I-don’t-know-everything” entry in his Golden Book of Little Souls to finally be good. This has little to do with the traditional St. Nicholas picture.

Make St. Nicholas visible today

Fortunately, there are courses that convey to aspiring and already experienced performers the values ​​for which St. Nicholas stands. To see how such a training runs, I signed up for a one-day “Nikolausschule”. Organizers are the church Latin America relief organization Adveniat and the Cologne city association of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ). They have taken up the cause to introduce Saint Nicholas and the legends around him, exploring the question of how it can be seen today.

Chocolate Santa Claus are at the Nikolausschule in Cologne on the table. 

A smile under his beard: As friendly and kind, as these Schokonikoläuse look, should also be a Santa Claus actor.

St. Nicholas School has been around since 2011, Adveniat employee Henning Gerlach tells me. There are usually five courses per year in different cities, where on average seven people attend. This time, there are twelve mostly older men – and a young woman. Gradually, the participants arrive. Many have a large suitcase in which they have stowed their costume.

When we introduce ourselves at the beginning of the round, I realize that not only I have a lot to work up in terms of Nicholas. Markus from the Münsterland tells how, as a child, a stunted Nikolaus actor threatened him with an ax to chop off his thumb where he always sucked. He was totally scared of escaping from the house. I hear of eerie figures and sacks with children’s legs dangling from them.

Nikolaus expert Reinhard Sentis (center) has already run many Nikolausschulen. He wants to show the actors how to translate the saint’s message into the present day.

Such stories are also known to Reinhard Sentis. The Nikolaus expert leads the training. Already at the beginning he makes it clear that a Nicholas should not act as a punisher. On the contrary: He must always show “full of goodness”. “When you smile under your beard, that’s what happens to the children, too.” Santa Claus should not have to make up for what parents have missed in their education. The concept ‘Be good and you’ll get a gift’ is actually completely un-noclistian: “Santa always pays for himself without asking anything in return,” says Sentis.

First and foremost, decent Santa Claus education means knowing about the saint. Secured knowledge about him there is little: he was bishop in Asia Minor Myra in the fourth century. Above all, the legends and miracle stories are known, from which the fascination feeds. “Nicholas is a role model whom we trust so much that we attribute more to him, and in his person and his wonders, the life of Christ is always reflected,” explains Sentis. He embodies longings and truths that Jesus already taught. “Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of those who have no lobby.” These include children.

Carry Nicholas’ message to your heart

For Reinhard Sentis, the Christmas tradition is a matter of the heart. He comes from the Lower Rhine, where St. Nicholas is celebrated big. “I want to promote St. Nicholas as someone who, from the Christian tradition, has become a person who points to Christmas in a special way, pointing to the Incarnate God who appeals to us: you are infinitely valuable.” In times when Nicholas runs the risk of being displaced by the secular figure of Santa Claus, one should like to rediscover this specific Christian perspective. How to carry the message of St. Nicholas into people’s hearts is the purpose of the St. Nicholas School.

Katholisch.de editor Matthias Altmann turns into Nicholas. The basis for a good costume is the shawl.

Important on such training days is not only the theory, but also the exchange with each other. We form four groups to design the process of a visit to St. Nicholas. I have teamed up with Ulrich from Dusseldorf and Stefan from Cologne. We pretend that we, as Nicholas, attend an Advent celebration of a youth group. For Ulrich, this topic is particularly relevant: he has been visiting Nikolaus’s group of his granddaughters for a few years now and can hardly judge how his performances will arrive there. Stefan, on the other hand, is very experienced: he operates his own agency for the sale of Nicholas and has performed around 3,000 times.

Of course, Ulrich and I try to benefit from Stefan’s experience. Through his remarks, we realize what can go wrong – or better: how many things to look out for to make a decent Santa Claus. The decisive factor, according to Stefan, is the preparation: “The best thing to do in the group is always to find an ally to talk to and give you the information about what happened in the group over the course of the year Announce visit, he should also help you with the implementation. ” When Santa Claus is in front of the young people, it is always important to involve them in the event. Otherwise, it may happen that they drift mentally or try to disturb. After the performance, it would be advisable to get back in touch with those responsible so that you can make it even better next time.

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The next steps on the way to St. Nicholas: Albe and stole. Then comes the Zingulum.

Stefan has been on the road for 23 years as Nicholas – yet such training is still important to him. Exactly the exchange with other St. Nicholas make them so valuable. “When it comes to Nicholas, I still see myself as a student,” he says. He enjoys organizing and dealing with people, which makes his job as a “professional” Santa very easy. He finds that Nicholas, especially in families can be a great asset, if he embodies the benevolent admonisher: “He can serve as a kind of grandfather figure, to which the children are confident.” But Stefan also knows that a Santa Claus, who misunderstood his task, can also break a lot.

Highly motivated participants

Reinhard Sentis always takes highly motivated participants to the St. Nicholas Schools. “There come people who have been traveling for many years as Nicholas, who then go home with completely new ideas, experiences and perspectives.” It would always develop great conversations around the custom. Sentis finds it interesting how many different traditions and opportunities exist to bring Nicholas to the public. “I, too, go home enriched after such training.”

What makes a Santa Claus really Nicholas? The robe, of course. For a bishop it is not fitting to show up in a red robe. To come over authentic, especially authentic – ie liturgical – clothing required: These include a shawl, an alb, a stole, a Zingulum for girding, a pectoral cross, a choir coat, a bishop’s ring, a beard and a wig, a book, a Mitra and a crosier. It is important that the utensils fit well, especially the alb must be long enough. Reinhard Sentis also recommends black socks, black shoes, and maybe even white gloves. At a volunteer, he shows step by step how dressing works. After that, each participant is allowed to dress. Where necessary, Sentis helps. So I’m going to Nicholas after a few simple steps.

Like a true bishop: Authentic clothing is crucial for a Nicholas actor.

After I undress the robe, I talk to Anna – the only participant of the Nikolausschule. Last year at the BDKJ Advent Campaign in downtown Essen, she distributed “Nikolausa” chocolate Santa Claus – “because we simply had a shortage of men”, she says with a smile. That did not bother anyone, there were no stupid comments from passers-by. In any case, gender was not decisive in order to embody Nicholas well. “I believe in the idea – that’s the most important thing,” says Anna. She wants to carry on the good in a world where “so much bad happens”. Here she is the example of St. Nicholas.

Reinhard Sentis sees it similarly: “St. Nicholas must rejoice in man and embody God’s love for humanity.” He must be especially attentive to those who are not in the limelight. “He must be able to approach people and teach them that each one is infinitely precious and loved by God.” Nikolausprofi Stefan adds: “It is important that an actor believes in Nicholas as a selfless gift-maker and acts in the spirit of Nicholas, so that his message is preserved.”

The message of St. Nicholas is also in the 21st century still hot, finds Reinhard Sentis. But every single person has to work on the implementation – for this you do not have to wear a Santa Claus robe. “Everyone can be a Santa Claus in life – even without Mitra!”, Says Reinhard Sentis. At the end of the Nikolausschule there is a certificate for each participant. Now I have it in black and white: I am a trained Nikolaus. In the future, hopefully, I will not have a queasy feeling any more when I meet a Santa Claus somewhere.

 

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