St Nicholas’ Day, a must at the end of the year?
While the feast of Saint Lucia marks the beginning of Advent in the Nordic countries, Saint Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and even in the north and east of France!
Much more than a source of inspiration for the character of Santa Claus, St Nicholas is a legend, a symbol and a generally large-scale tradition still celebrated in many European countries.
Why is St Nicholas celebrated?
Nicholas of Myra, a bishop who lived around the 3rd and 4th centuries in the region of Lycia (now Turkey), is the patron saint of children and sailors. His legend was truly formed when he resurrected three children who had been killed and put in a salt cellar by a butcher when they asked for hospitality. He is celebrated on December 6th, the date of his death.
Saint Nicholas is easily recognisable by his large white beard, his red coat, his mitre and his crook. In some regions, such as Lorraine, St Nicholas Day was even more important than Christmas Day until the 1960s! Indeed, a relic of his finger is kept in Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, in the region of Nancy (Lorraine) in France and is the object of a pilgrimage.
How is it celebrated?
Saint Nicholas, accompanied by his donkey (or horse, depending on the country), visits European homes on the night of December 5th to 6th to reward good children. He places clementines or speculoos in the children’s shoes. But if the children are disobedient, then the whipping father, the evil equivalent of St Nicholas, punishes them!
Many parades are organised in towns and cities on December 6th: St Nicholas and his donkey, the whipping father and other creatures parade through the streets and hand out sweets. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, organise a river parade: each year a town is chosen to host the “Pakjesboot 12”, St Nicholas’ boat arriving from Spain (yes, according to their legend) two weeks before December 6th.
St Nicholas also visits schoolchildren, always accompanied by the whipping father, to hand out presents. To write to Saint Nicholas and show that you have been good throughout the year, the Belgian post office has set up an address: Rue du Paradis 1, 0612 CIEL. So get your pens ready!
But what about… Santa Claus?
With his white beard and red coat, Santa Claus or Father Christmas reminds us of Saint Nicholas! But that is where the comparison ends!
The legend and tradition of St. Nicholas, known as “Sinter Klaas” in the Netherlands, was imported by the Dutch to America. It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that a poem forged the legend of Santa Claus by making him live in the North Pole and accompanying him with reindeer.
In 1863, the image of Santa Claus inspired by Saint Nicholas took shape under the pencil of Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Finally, it was not until 1931 that the representation of Santa Claus became firmly anchored in the collective imagination, thanks to Coca Cola. The soda brand wanted to sell its products during the winter period and used this character for a great marketing coup! It was this advertising campaign that popularised the image of Santa Claus throughout the world.
Santa Claus is therefore both an interpretation and a modernisation of St Nicholas. The spread of the American Way of Life has definitively imposed the image of Santa Claus as the character of Christmas, but not at the expense of St Nicholas, who is still widely celebrated throughout Europe. Unlike St Nicholas, Santa Claus distributes gifts to children from his toy factory at the North Pole and thus marks the transition to a more consumerist society. Nevertheless, the magic of Christmas is still there!
As a Belgian company, we are also celebrating St. Nicholas’ Day at le typographe. We are offering a St. Nicholas box consisting of :
- a red Kaweco fountain pen
- a box of 6 “tea leaf” cartridges
- an A6 donkey motif pad of 45 sheets
- an A6 donkey postcard on garnet paper with envelope
- a mini carrot card and envelope
Everything is packaged in an A6 box made of 360g chalk paper printed in red and accompanied by a speculoos from the famous Maison Dandoy, to delight young and old!
The “Saint Nicolas passe par là” card will allow you to accompany your gift with a word.
Sources : https://www.geo.fr/histoire/tout-ce-quil-faut-savoir-sur-la-saint-nicolas-207347 . https://sosoir.lesoir.be/les-legendes-et-les-traditions-de-saint-nicolas . https://croire.la-croix.com/Definitions/Fetes-religieuses/Noel/Rites-et-traditions-de-Noel/De-saint-Nicolas-au-Pere-Noel