Switch or treats for Switzerland children | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Switch or treats for Switzerland children

Sarah Gonser

Holy Saint Nikolaus wouldn’t be caught dead shimmying down the chimney like his American cousin, Jolly Saint Nick.

And he only makes one appearance a year, on Dec. 6, when he shows up on doorsteps wearing a tall hat, a long red cape and carrying a hooked staff.

“Saint Nikolaus looked like a bishop,” said Kurt Baumann, who grew up in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and came to the United States in 1955. “And he always walked in the door knowing who was good and who was bad.”

The saintly guy only gave goodies to well-behaved children and came accompanied by the fearful Knecht Rupprecht, who swatted misbehaving tots on the behind with a small straw broom. Somehow, Knecht Rupprecht always seemed to know which children needed a little discipline and had an innate ability to find them in their best hiding places.

“The good children got nuts, oranges, cookies and mandarins,” Baumann said. “After World War II, everyone was so poor and there was no food around. Getting oranges and nuts was a really big thing.”

Baumann, who owns The Swiss Chalet with his wife Ruth, grew up in the restaurant business. In fact, he is the fifth Baumann generation involved in the business and two of his sons are chefs at the restaurant, too. As a child, Baumann said, it seemed like his father was always away in the army and every Christmas was spent working in the restaurant. But there were times when he and his three younger brothers got to enjoy the holidays.

“On December 24 our parents would put us to bed at 6 or 7 in the evening,” Baumann remembered. “They would finish up in the restaurant and wake us at midnight, when Christ was born. Then we’d get to see the tree for the first time and open our presents, which were very simple, usually clothes and things we really needed.”

The next two days were spent among family and friends and the highlight was the Christmas feast, easily considered the best meal of the year.

“It was the fanciest foods we’d get to eat all year,” Baumann said. “It would be chicken, goose or duck. Wine for the adults, hot chocolate for the kids.”

After, there were cookies, coffee and Weinachtstollen, which is a raisin pastry stuffed with marzipan and candied lemon and orange rinds.

“The best thing about Christmas was having a full stomach and getting a whole day off from school,” Baumann said. “And we were truly happy to get the few little gifts we got because we had nothing in those days.”

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