from The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood:
Father Nicholas Bauer loved his hometown with a ferocity he thought should properly belong only to God. But he consoled himself that the Almighty approved of love, real love, wherever it occurred and would forgive him his devotion to his home town and its people. Ever since he was ordained it had been his dearest wish to be assigned to St. Walburga's, the parish he had grown up in, and when the chance came six years ago he had grabbed it. Returning to Marienstadt had been the happiest event of his life and being the pastor of St. Walburga's, as well as the chaplain for the local Benedictine convent, St. Joseph's, filled his days with purpose and satisfaction. There were fewer nuns now than there had been when he was a boy but a few of the older ones had been his teachers when he was a student. Now he pushed open the door of the ceramics shop where the sisters created handmade statues, rosaries, and nativity sets. Sister Hilda was seated with a group of local ladies painting glaze onto white bisque figures of angels.
“Good morning, Father,” she said. This was followed by a chorus of the same greeting from the ladies.
“Good morning.” He rubbed his hands together briskly then peeled off his mittens. “It certainly is a cold one this morning.”
“How did they turn out?” He followed her across the room to the shelves by the windows. The entire room was lined with shelves crowded with statues in various stages of completion – the greenware clay still moist from the mold, the pale bisque forms that had been fired once and awaited glaze, and the hundreds of brightly painted figures ready to be sold in the convent's gift shop or in one of the downtown stores that carried the Sisters' ceramics.
Sister Hilda nodded. “They're cute. I found molds for six different designs so there are some interesting variations. Have a look.”
Each of the statues was between four and six inches tall and all of them depicted an old man with a long curling white beard, wearing a cape with a pointed hood and lots of fur trim. Some held little fir trees, others bags of toys, and one had a brier pipe in his mouth.
“Well, aren't they just the handsomest fellows,” he said, lifting one wearing a sparkling blue robe, carrying a tree in one hand and a lantern in the other. “These are wonderful.”
Sister Hilda nodded. “We've already got orders from shops all around the area. Sister John Paul came in and took pictures to put on the web site.”
“Excellent idea,” he said. The fact that the Sisters had a web site for their crafts work still delighted him. Sister John Paul was one of the younger nuns and had set it up complete with PayPal links for ordering. “I've been thinking, maybe next year we could expand Belsnickel to include a little festival. Instead of Belsnickel visiting the children in their homes we could have a party and maybe a dinner with locally made, good, old-fashioned food. Maybe a sauerkraut dinner with pork roast and potato dumplings. I was talking to Bob and Mandy Herzing out at the Sugar House about getting some Belsnickel candy molds and making sugar Belsnickels.”
Sister Hilda turned slightly and ducked her head so her veil could drift forward and hide her expression. Just what we need, she thought, another of Father Nick's bright ideas.
Thanks for reading.