by Joanmarie Weiss
(Frankenmuth, MI, USA)
My husband's family has lived in the USA for five generations, but here in Frankenmuth many old traditions are still celebrated as the seasons pass.
When Margie, our first child, was about two years old, she and I both experienced our first visit from Pelznickel and his helpers. I was twenty-nine, and he startled and delighted me...our two year old absolutely loved him!
A knock on the back door of our old farm house announced a visitor on a cold December night about a week before Christmas. My husband went to see who could possibly be out on such a frigid night! His "Willkommen! Willkommen!" tipped me off that our visitor was of German heritage.
Clump, clump, clump: heavy boots on the stairway. Margie and I were both staring at the kitchen doorway as the visitor came in. Daddy was speaking in Frankische dialect and the visitor was, too.
I was taken aback by our visitor's appearance. Margie was, too, as she cuddled as close as she could into me! In walked a man dressed in a heavy, black fur antique coat. He had a bushy black beard, a black fur hat, black fur gloves, and a great big burlap sack that was bulging with bumps.
I've learned some German dialect over the years, but in our early marriage I didn't have too good a grasp of dialogue. So, I cannot share exactly what was said. Daddy told Margie (and me) that Pelznickel had come to see if she was a good little girl. If she was Pelznickel had some treats for her. If she hadn't been good, he'd pop her in his sack!
Our daughter has nerve. Drawing herself up as tall as she could and speaking with much spunk, she told Daddy and Pelznickel, "I'm Mom's helper with Scott (her baby brother)and I'm a good helper!"
Pelznickel laughed and laughed! Then, he asked if she'd like a gift. All fear forgotten, Margie walked over to him and started petting his coat! "It feels like my calf," she told him. Turns out the ensemble Pelznickel wore that night was an antique horse-hair coat, hat, and mittens from the 19th century.
Pelznickel gave Margie a gift from his bag. Then, he turned to my husband with a twinkle in his eye (is that where Santa's twinkle comes from?) and said he wasn't leaving until he warmed up a bit. "Got something to help me and my helpers warm up?" he laughingly inquired. Roger got out wine glasses and homemade concord grape wine to share with Pelznickel and his friends.
After Pelznickel and his helpers departed (one was a DD, Pelznickel had a full night in Frankenmuth that evening!)Roger explained to me the legend of Pelznickel. When he was a child Pelznickel came to visit him and his six siblings, too. In the Frankenmuth farm community, this tradition is sometimes shared among families having young children. I love the tradition. I hope Pelznickel will visit our granddaughter in a couple years and she can tell him she's a good girl, too!
As a young mother, and now that Margie is full-grown, I think back on that night fondly. It was the first time I met this particular friend of Roger's. Roger had no idea Pelznickel was going to make an appearance in our home. Truly, for me it was the same experience of fear, then delight, that young children have when he shows up on a cold winter's night asking for an accounting of one's behavior.