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Music

Waiting for St. Nick: 'Lasst uns froh und munter sein'

Jürgen Brendel is part of the music team at DW. One of his favorite things about Christmas is the figure of St. Nicholas, who is celebrated in many German Christmas songs.

Strictly speaking, "Lasst uns froh und munter sein" (Let us be gay and cheerful) is not a Christmas song. St. Nicholas Day is traditionally celebrated on December 6 in Germany, and pays tribute to Nicholas of Myra, who was a bishop at the beginning of the fourth century in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey. He is one of the most popular saints of the Eastern and Western Churches. To pay tribute to his good deeds, on his feast day of December 6th, children are given all sorts of sweets - either placed in their boots or on a plate that has been set out. In some countries, gift-giving was eventually moved from St. Nicholas Day to Chistmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The song "Lasst uns froh und munter sein" from the 19th century comes from Hunsrück, in the hilly Rhineland region between the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. It's about the excitement kids feel on the eve of St. Nicholas - anticipating the gifts they are about to receive during the night on the plates or boots they have put out at the doorstep.

I especially liked the song as a child because it's happy and upbeat. It was cold and dark outside during the winter - back in the early 1960s, when winter was truly winter - and so many of the Christmas songs seemed so unnecessarily melancholy, even though they were about a joyful event: a very special birth.