By Myra Lee Adams Goff
There is something really magical about the Christmas season and especially in New Braunfels, with its rich history and traditions. The stage is set when the Main Plaza lights are turned on. There are several Christmas events sponsored by the Sophienburg, so you know they are going to have something to do with history.
Sophienburg’s money-making event that allows the doors to stay open, is Weihnachtsmarkt. That long word means “Christmas Market”. The Sophienburg brings exciting shopping for Christmas gifts to Comal Countians. Every year that event at the Civic Center is more than a shopping experience, it really is a place to meet friends, to eat German food, to shop for unusual gifts and to really get into the Christmas spirit.
As I listened to the plans for this year’s market, I realized that Weihnachtsmarkt is also a great art experience. Yes, just like last year, the artists in the group that volunteer to decorate have created an artistic experience not to be forgotten. In other words, when you go to Weihnachtsmarkt, you experience interesting shopping plus a side effect of an artistic experience or if you go to see the art, you have a side effect of shopping. The decoration committee, headed by Beverley Wigley and Donna Debner, plus about 75 helpers, have chosen the theme this year to be “The Nativity”. Talk about an appropriate theme for Christmas, they have it! The Nativity is the traditional iconic Christmas symbol. About 300 volunteers put on the event. Besides the decorating, there’s the Sophienburg’s prime shopping booth, Sophie’s Shop that so many volunteers are involved in.
The origin of the Nativity has many different interpretations but many historians claim that the birth date of Jesus Christ was adopted as December 25th in the fourth century. For two centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ, His birth was considered unimportant, for at that time, only death dates were recognized. Also because Christ was considered divine, a natural birth was played down. Supposedly sometime along the way, the church legitimized Dec. 25 as the date of Christ’s birth to compete with the Roman holiday, “Natalis Solis Invicti”, a popular Roman celebration that honored the birth of their sun god of agriculture on that date.
The Church officially recognized Dec. 25 as the Nativity of Christ and it became a day of holy prayer by celebrating a “Christ Mass”. The name stuck as “Christmas”. When the Roman emperor, Constantine, united his emperorship with the Church, he declared Christianity to be the state religion in the year 354 A.D. Not only Christ’s death was emphasized, but also his birth. December 25th became the Nativity, a holy day, or holiday.
At the Weihnachtsmarkt, different interpretations of the Nativity theme will be carried out throughout the building. The stage is the main focus of the Nativity decorations. Two giant arches with scenes depicting the Nativity are surrounded by fir trees. Between the two arches are life-sized mannequins of Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child. Sophie’s Café is located in front of the stage where shoppers may sit and enjoy German food. Each of these tables are decorated with a different Nativity and these centerpieces are for sale.
Scherenschnitte and strudel
Several other features this year are Santa’s Workshop for children where a child can take a “selfie” of him or herself with Santa. A new activity called “Schnitt & Strudel” is being offered. Enjoy eating strudel and coffee and learn the art of paper cutting, Scherenschnitte, taught by Betty Spain. She has created a whole Christmas tree of Scherenschnitte ornaments. There is a $15 fee and everything is furnished. Call the Sophienburg 830-629-1572 for times and reservations. Strudel will be enjoyed during the class. Strudel recipes actually go back to early Austria, but strudel is a descendant of the Turkish Baklava pastry, introduced into Austria in 1453. New Braunfelsers know about strudel.
Lindheimer decorates for Christmas
Up on the hill, in keeping with the Lindheimer exhibit, decorations are “au natural”. Would Lindheimer have decorated with glitz and glitter? No way. For months the volunteers, mostly the collection ladies, under the direction of Keva Boardman, have been collecting nature’s fine decorations – acorns, berries, wood, leaves, bird’s nests, butterfly wings, honeycomb and Spanish moss. Decorations throughout the museum with garland and wreaths take you back in time. They are doing their best to make Ferdinand Lindheimer, the naturalist, feel at home. I found this rather interesting: Keva Boardman accepts these natural materials and then puts them in the freezer. It is not wise to introduce bugs and spiders into a museum.
St. Nikolaus will be at the Sophienburg again on Dec. 5. St. Nikolaus is thought to be the forerunner of our modern Santa Claus. Like other old legends, there are many variations of the St. Nikolaus story. He was from Turkey and in the 4th century entered the seminary. He soon became the Bishop of Myra, Asia Minor, and won many converts. Because of his popularity, the Romans imprisoned him. Finally, the new emperor, Constantine, released him from prison and even made him a church council member. Because of his generosity, he became the patron saint of children in several countries. During the Protestant Reformation, St. Nikolaus was banished from most European countries. The Dutch made him the protector of sailors and began the tradition of children filling wooden shoes with treats. Americans went from wooden shoes to leather shoes to long socks, even stretchable panty hose. In American New England, where the Dutch settled, they spelled St. Nicholas “Sint Nikolass” which, with time, became “Sinterklass” and finally Santa Claus.
Clement Moore wrote the poem, “The Night Before Christmas” and he described St. Nicholas as a little man in a red robe with a belly that “shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.” This description contradicted the vision of a tall stately man in a red Bishop’s robe trimmed in fur with a long white beard as described before.
Then cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a picture of what he thought Santa looked like for Harper’s Weekly in 1881. Nast’s picture definitely put on weight. He looked like the Santa of today. Our St. Nick at the Sophienburg is a combination of several versions, although he does wear a hooded red robe trimmed with animal fur and has a long beard. Our Nikolaus speaks only German and hollers out to the children, “Kannst du beden?” or “Can you pray”? and without even understanding what he said, the wide-eyed children say, “Yes, I can pray”. Early St. Nick stories were brought to New Braunfels with the immigrants. Come to think of it, so did Lindheimer and so did the idea of the Christmas Market, Weihnachtsmarkt. See you there.
Time: Market – Nov. 20 th, 10 to 5, Nov. 21st, 10 to 6, Nov. 22nd, 10 to 5
Place: New Braunfels Convention Center, 380 S. Seguin Ave., New Braunfels, Texas