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Erich Kästner

“Als der Nikolaus kam”

A Christmas poem in English and German

In 1947 the German author Erich Kästner translated "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas") into German. There is controversy over who actually wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Although Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863) is usually credited, there seems to be a lot of evidence that the original author was actually another New Yorker named Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828). Read more below.

In 1928 Kästner also wrote a parody of a traditional German Christmas carol ("Morgen, Kinder") from about 1850.


DEUTSCH
Als der Nikolaus kam
German by Erich Kästner (1947)

In der Nacht vor dem Christfest, da regte
   im Haus
sich niemand und nichts, nicht mal
   eine Maus.
Die Strümpfe, die hingen paarweis
   am Kamin
und warteten drauf, daß Sankt Niklas
   erschien.
Die Kinder lagen gekuschelt
   im Bett
und träumten vom Äpfel- und
   Nüsseballett.

Die Mutter schlief tief, und auch ich
   schlief brav,
wie die Murmeltiere im
   Winterschlaf,
als draußen vorm Hause ein
   Lärm losbrach,
daß ich aufsprang und dachte: Siehst
   rasch einmal nach!
Ich rannte zum Fenster und, fast noch
   im Lauf,
stieß ich die knarrenden
   Läden auf.

Es hatte geschneit, und der
   Mondschein lag
so silbern auf allem, als sei's
   heller Tag.
Acht winzige Renntierchen kamen
   gerannt,
vor einen ganz, ganz kleinen Schlitten
   gespannt!
Auf dem Bock saß ein Kutscher, so alt
   und so klein,
daß ich wußte, das kann nur der
   Nikolaus sein!

Die Renntiere kamen daher wie
   der Wind,
und der Alte, der pfiff, und er rief
   laut: "Geschwind!
Renn, Renner! Tanz, Tänzer! Flieg,
   fliegende Hitz'!
Hui, Sternschnupp'! Hui, Liebling! Hui,
   Donner und Blitz!
Die Veranda hinauf und die
   Hauswand hinan!
Immer fort mit euch! Fort mit euch! Hui,
   mein Gespann!"

Wie das Laub, das der Herbststurm die
   Straßen lang fegt
und, steht was im Weg, in den Himmel
   hoch trägt,
so trug es den Schlitten hin auf
   unser Haus
samt dem Spielzeug und samt dem
   Sankt Nikolaus!
Kaum war das geschehen, vernahm ich
   schon schwach
das Stampfen der zierlichen Hufe
   vom Dach.

Dann wollt' ich die Fensterläden
   zuzieh'n,
da plumpste der Nikolaus in den
   Kamin!
Sein Rock war aus Pelzwerk, vom Kopf
   bis zum Fuß.
Jetzt klebte er freilich voll
   Asche und Ruß.
Sein Bündel trug Nikolaus
   huckepack,
so wie die Hausierer bei uns
   ihren Sack.

Zwei Grübchen, wie lustig! Wie blitzte
   sein Blick!
Die Bäckchen zartrosa, die Nas' rot
   und dick!
Der Bart war schneeweiß, und der
   drollige Mund
sah aus wie gemalt, so klein und
   halbrund.
Im Munde, da qualmte ein
   Pfeifenkopf,
und der Rauch, der umwand wie ein
   Kranz seinen Schopf.

--- [Kästner apparently chose not... --

--- ...to translate these two lines.] --

Ich lachte hell, wie er so vor
   mir stand,
ein rundlicher Zwerg aus dem
   Elfenland.
Er schaute mich an und schnitt
   ein Gesicht,
als wollte er sagen: "Nun, fürchte
   dich nicht!"
Das Spielzeug stopfte er, eifrig
   und stumm,
in die Strümpfe, war fertig, drehte
   sich um,
hob den Finger zur Nase, nickte
   mir zu,
kroch in den Kamin und war fort
   im Nu!

In den Schlitten sprang er und pfiff
   dem Gespann,
da flogen sie schon über Täler
   und Tann.
Doch ich hört' ihn noch rufen, von fern
   klang es sacht:
"Frohe Weihnachten allen, - und allen
   gut' Nacht!"
ENGLISH
A Visit from St. Nicholas
by Henry Livingston, Jr. (1823)*

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all
   through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even
   a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the
   chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would
   be there.
The children were nestled all snug
   in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced
   in their heads.

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in
   my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long
   winter's nap.
When out on the lawn there arose
   such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what
   was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like
   a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up
  the sash.

The moon on the breast of the
   new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to
   objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes
   should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight
   tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively
   and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be
   St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers
   they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called
   them by name!
"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer
   and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner
   and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of
   the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash
   away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild
   hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount
   to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers
   they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St.
   Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on
   the roof
The prancing and pawing of each
   little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was
   turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with
   a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head
   to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with
   ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung
   on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just
   opening his pack.

His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples
   how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like
   a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like
   a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white
   as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in
   his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head
   like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little
   round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a
   bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right
   jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite
   of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of
   his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing
   to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight
   to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned
   with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of
   his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney
   he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team
   gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down
   of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove
   out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all
   a good-night!"


*This poem was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel (New York) in 1823. In 1837 Clement Clarke Moore claimed authorship. In a book of poems Moore said that he wrote the poem on Christmas Eve in 1823. But Livingston's family claims that the poem was a family tradition that began in 1808. University professor Don Foster and British researcher Jil Farrington separately did research that may prove it was Livingston rather than Moore who was the poem's author.

The reindeer names "Donner" and "Blitzen" are also related to the Livingston claims. In the earliest versions of the poem those two names were different. Read more in German Myth 5 (Donner and Blitzen). Note that Kästner alters the reindeer names and uses the more German "Donner und Blitz" for those two names.

Two Missing Lines
For some reason Kästner's "Als der Nikolaus kam" is two lines shorter than the original "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The English original has 56 lines, the German version only 54. Were the lines "He had a broad face and a little round belly/That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!" a problem to translate? Whatever the reason, Kästner did not include those two lines in his German version.

MORE > German Christmas Carols in English and German
BACK > Adventskalender - Daily Christmas facts
MORE > German Song Lyrics in English and German

WEB > Henry Livingston, Jr. - Is Livingston the true author?


Related Pages

Erich Kästner
About the German author and his works.

German Myth 5
How did Santa's reindeer get the names Donner and Blitzen?

Christmas in German
All of our German Christmas pages.

Music: Lyrics/Info
More German musical lyrics and song information.


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