Nick or Knecht?

Yesterday’s blog post brought about some lively discussion, especially with regard to this black and white photograph which supposedly showed Santa.


So today, after becoming much more informed regarding the character shown in this photo, we will discuss this matter more thoroughly.

Yesterday afternoon, we received a phone call from Rev. Roger Moldenhauer, a dear friend of our museum who is the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  He related the following information to us.  He said that he was told about this character by Dr. William A. Kramer.  I will share more biographical information about him later in this post.  Here is what Rev. Moldenhauer shared with us.  I’ll use his exact words.

Just a follow-up on today’s blog and the “scary” figure in one of the old b/w photos. That figure is St. Nikolas’s alter-ego, Knecht Ruprecht.
According to Dr. William Kramer, who for many years was head of our Lutheran schools at Synodical HQ in St. Louis, Knecht Ruprecht would visit homes in Altenburg and Frohna in early December to examine the children concerning their knowledge of memory work from the Catechism and German hymn verses assigned at school. Beneath the “scary” costume was usually an uncle or another male relative. By Thanksgiving the children were really bearing down on their memory work in preparation for that visit.
The switches on the backpack would be left for the child who didn’t know his/her memory work.
Thinking this through theologically, Nikolas and Knecht Ruprecht were Gospel-Law figures. But, I fear that no matter what CFW Walther would say, Law and Gospel somehow were mingled in the practice.
Traditionally Germans do not associate St. Nikolas with Christmas and Christmas presents. If someone comes with gifts for Christmas, he’s called “Der Weihnachtsmann.” (“The Christmas Guy”)
I must admit that I didn’t even notice the switches in the backpack in the above photo yesterday.
Then I ran across a website online that contained an article which included this photo.
The article stated that this character was St. Nicholas, and he would sometimes read from his golden book which may have included some of the bad things children had done during the past year.  The children would of course feel the guilt of their previous actions and would promise to be better the next year.  This St. Nick….or sometimes his sidekick, Knecht Ruprecht…..would give them a gentle smack on the back with his rod.  Later in this visit, as shown in the photo, the children would receive a bag full of nuts, fruit, and candy.
You can read more about this Christmas tradition by going to this website:
There are so many traditions associated with Christmas and many of them come from different countries.  I cannot keep track of all of them.  There is another tradition from Austria that has a character called Krampus that has many similarities to Knecht Ruprecht.
St. Nick and Krampus

Now for a little biographical information about Dr. William Kramer.  Dr. Kramer was born in Frohna, Missouri, the son of Theodor and Mathilde (Burfeind) Kramer.  He was born in 1900.  He attended Concordia Lutheran School in Frohna and later on attended Concordia Teacher College in River Forest, Illinois.  William would marry Renata Gertrude Welp, the daughter of Henry Welp, who taught at Concordia, Frohna for fifty years.  You can find out more about the life of Dr. Kramer and his contributions to Lutheran education at this link:

I guess it has been true for a long time now that some Christmas figures have attempted to use guilt to bring about good behavior from children.  Even Santa Claus is said to know if you’ve been bad or good, so you should be good, for goodness sake.  In the past few years, folks have even developed a few new ones, such as Elf on a Shelf and the Santa Cam.
I cannot help but think that this is not exactly good Lutheran theology.  The real reason for Christmas is to honor the birthday of Jesus Christ, and He did not come to provide salvation to people who were “good enough”.  That is not what grace is all about.  We do what is right because of what Christ has already done for us.  Our good works are not something we do in order to qualify for salvation.  Our good works are a response to already receiving God’s gracious gifts.  My hope is that we all remember what is said in the LCMS theme for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation…….It’s Still All About Jesus.
A big thank you goes out to Rev. Roger Moldenhauer for his contributions to this article.  I encourage others to help us out by sharing your knowledge with us.  You can always contact our research crew by e-mailing us at

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