Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Saint Nicolas Day

Yesterday, December 6th, was Saint Nicolas Day in Belgium. He is considered as the patron saint of the mariners and small children. The Bishop of Myra, as Saint Nicolas was originally called, was born in the year 270 A.C. in Pataras in Asia. He is said to have brought three unfortunate orphans back to life. During a storm they had sought refuge in a butcher shop. The cruel butcher looking for an easy profit, drugged the children, killed them and cut them into pieces, after which he then put them in a tank filled with brine.

The Bishop of Myra who happened to be passing by saw what had happened and brought the children back to life. The good man himself died on December 6th, 340.

Saint Nicolas in his typical outfit

For children in Belgium, Holland and France December 6th is the best day of the year, because on this particular day Saint Nicolas showers them with candy and toys.

The ‘Sint’, as he’s commonly called, arrives in November. He comes from Spain, where he lives and travels to Antwerp in a steamer. He’s accompanied by his white horse and several ‘Black Peters’. The head Peter has a large book in which he keeps an update of how children have behaved over the last year. Good children get gifts, bad children are punished. That is why so many very small children are afraid of the Black Peters.

On the eve of Saint Nicolas day, you put your shoe by the chimney. In it you put a carrot for the ‘Sint’s’ horse and next to it you leave a cup of coffee for Saint Nicolas and a glass of beer for Black Peter. The beer is a recent addition! Don’t forget to leave a letter with a list of the gifts you want to receive. You can also mail in advance … our Belgian post will make sure that your letter arrives! Make sure to give your parents a copy in case the letter gets lost. The next morning, and if you have been good, the carrot will be gone and the cup and glass will be empty. Next to them you’ll find chocolate, ‘speculoos’, tangerines and toys. Mind you, you don’t always get what you’ve asked for …

For years, for instance, I asked for a miniature electric train, but I never got one. My father explained to me that he had told the ‘Sint’ that little girls didn’t play with miniature trains. What a shame! However, being an only child, Saint Nicolas has always been very generous to me. I got Barbie dolls and clothes, a small record player, a cassette deck, …

By the time you turned twelve, the trick was let your parents think that you still believed in Saint Nicolas. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Although I’m over fifty now, my mother still buys me a little something on Saint Nicolas Day.

Over the years Santa Claus has become a serious competitor to Saint Nicolas, but I have the impression that lately the good man is gaining some ground again. Good traditions don’t die, do they?



Nadege said...

A good tradition and its memory never dies. Santa is so commercial now but St Nicolas is more real (to me anyway).

The Beaver said...

Cup of coffee for St Nicholas in Belgium whereas Santa gets a glass of milk and some cookies in North America :-)

Enjoy your gift from St Nick ( sorry from your Mum)

ladybird said...

Nadege, Recently a new unwritten rule was introduced saying that the presence of the good man in shopping malls was only allow as from mid-November, when the real Saint had arrived by steamer! This rule (suggested by consumers' associations) is meant to protect children from an extreme exposure to the commercial side of a traditional event.

The Beaver, Our Saint Nicolas needs a little boost every now and then, as he has been around so much longer than Santa Claus! Maybe a Coke would do the trick too :)!