Belznickel, Kriskind and other memories of Christmases past

By Diana Breit Wolfe | November 29, 2023

Diana Breit Wolfe

“A couple of walnuts and maybe an orange or piece of candy.” That’s what my dad said when I asked what he received as a Christmas gift when he was a kid.
Born in 1904, he was one of nine siblings who grew up on a farm in Pfeifer, Kan. My mom, born in 1908 on a farm in Yocemento, Kan., had other memories. She said “Belznikel” — a German word loosely translated as a nasty person wearing a fur coat — would howl and rattle chains outside their door and finally enter carrying a switch to punish children who misbehaved.
My mom’s oldest sister, Molly, enjoyed playing the part of Belznikel, which allowed her to swat her seven younger siblings. They were also visited by Kriskind — Christ Child — who would give them a little candy or maybe some nuts. One of the younger children dressed as Kriskind.
These Christmas traditions were passed down to my parents from their parents, Russian-born farmers of German descent (often called Volga Germans) who immigrated to America around 1900. Happily, these humble traditions did not pass down to me and my siblings. Oh, except for one: No mention of Santa Claus.
All our gift giving and receiving was done on Christmas Eve, so there was no anticipation of Santa leaving anything to be found on Christmas morning. I never minded or felt deprived because of it. Christmas Day meant church, cooking, eating, visiting and being visited by friends and family.
I asked some friends about their memories of childhood Christmas. My friend Ann remembers Christmas in Florida, where her Air Force family was stationed when she was 7. An only child, she got a new bike as well as gifts from aunts and grandparents. I liked their tradition of singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas Eve.
Jane tells how she and her younger sister would innocently rearrange the gifts under their family’s tree almost every day. If a package had a loose ribbon or tape (possibly from being rearranged so much), they could peek inside before fixing it. Clever idea.
Nancy and her little brother decided they would stay awake to see Santa by counting together as high as they could. They fell asleep before they could catch old Saint Nick at work.
Another friend, Diane, and her family always spent Christmas Eve night at her grandparents’ home in Olpe, Kan. One year she wanted to sleep with grandpa because his bedroom was next to the living room, and she wanted to make sure Santa would know where she was. Made sense to her at the time.
When you’re with friends over the holidays, it’s fun to compare stories of how your families celebrated. And be sure to share memories your kids, grands and greats. I wish I had asked my parents, who have been gone for many years, more about how they celebrated.
Speaking of celebrations, please help The Active Age have a merry Christmas by sending a donation. Your gift — no matter the size — will get us nearer our fundraising goal for the year, which is $100,000. We are close to that number. Your donation will help keep The Active Age going and — who knows? — maybe you’ll get some candy from Kriskind in return.
Enjoy a blessed and joyous holiday season, and thanks for reading The Active Age newspaper!
Diana Breit Wolfe is treasurer of The Active Age’s board of directors. She can be reached at