A German Tale
Retold by Louise Carus from The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope from Around the World
Once upon a time, St. Nicholas was traveling through the provinces of the lower Rhine. When he arrived at the outskirts of the city of Doren, he saw a small chapel and suddenly felt a call to worship there.
“Stay here, my friend,” he said to his donkey as he dismounted. Then he left it to graze freely on the rich green grass surrounding the chapel while he went inside. It wasn’t long before he was deeply immersed in his devotions … .
Refreshed after praying so intently, St. Nicholas left the chapel to continue his journey. But now he could not find his donkey! He looked everywhere around the chapel, but the donkey wasn’t there.
Not far away, on the banks of the river, some local fishermen were busy at work with their latest catch. Nicholas walked over and begged for their help. The good fishermen agreed, devising a plan to lure the donkey back.
The day was dark and overcast, so the men lit torches and held them high as they searched the fields and the roads and the streets. They also blew cow horns so they could imitate a donkey’s voice. Throughout the whole neighborhood they walked—back and forth, up and down, this way and that—braying, “EEH-AH! EEE-HAH!” They were hoping Nicholas’s donkey would think he heard a fellow donkey calling and run back right away.
Soon the loud, clear sound filled the air: “EE-AH! EE-AH! EEEHAAAH!!”
By this time it had begun to snow. As the big, soft flakes fell faster and faster, everyone began to worry about St. Nicholas’s poor donkey. Where was he? Was he lost?
“EEH-AH! EEEH-AHI” they all cried. “EEEEEEEHHH-AAAHHH.”
But there was only silence. Even the normal sounds of the day were muffled by the falling snow. The fishermen looked at one another in alarm.
Then they heard it, faintly at first—”EEH-AH! EEEHH-AH!”—and then more loudly: “EE-AH! EEH-AHH!”
All at once, like a vision, indistinct at first, a gray form emerged from the whirling snow, and there he was—St. Nicholas’s donkey!
The children from all around had joined the fisherman in their search. Now shouting with delight, they surrounded the little creature and led him back to the anxiously waiting Saint.
What a flurry of excitement! When the lost donkey saw he was about to be reunited at last with his beloved master, he was beside himself with joy! “EEHAH! EEH-AH!” he brayed and brayed happily, while St. Nicholas laughed and scratched him behind the ears.
The very next moment, right then and there the donkey began dropping the fruits of his digestion on the freshly fallen snow.
But as they fell, a miracle occurred: for there—all over the ground where this happy commotion was taking place—all that could be found were rich, round, spicy Pfeffernüsse!
And ever since that day, the cookie has been a sweet reminder of how being with a loved one can lighten one’s load and change everything.
Excerpt from The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity and Hope From Around the World, by Louise Carus, editor and translator, copyright © 2002. Reprinted by permission of Quest Books/The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois.
This delightful collection of thirty St. Nicholas stories includes many folktales that are not well-known. One story may be read each day during Advent or one or two could be selected for St. Nicholas Day. Other information and recipes are also included. Purchase from amazon.com, amazon.ca or amazon.uk.