What is the story of Saint Nicholas?
Born in a trading town in Asia Minor, Nicholas was named bishop of Myra. In this capacity, he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. There are few traces of his life, but numerous legends, based on the reputation of his kindness towards the poor and children, enrich his posthumous life. He is invoked both in the East where he is the patron of Russia, and in the West where he is the patron of children and of Lorraine.
Why is Saint Nicholas the protector of children?
According to a famous Lorraine story, Saint Nicholas resurrected three children, murdered by a butcher before making them into savory meat. This legend makes him the patron saint of children.
What is the date of Saint Nicholas Day?
Saint Nicholas is celebrated on Wednesday December 6, 2023, date on which children receive gifts and treats in his honor.
In which countries do we celebrate Saint Nicholas Day?
This celebration is still observed in many European countries, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Switzerland and Russia. In the Netherlands, the tradition is even more popular than Christmas!
In France, Saint-Nicolas is celebrated mainly in Alsace and Lorraine, the bishop being the patron saint of the region since 1477. Saint Nicolas is also celebrated in the Ardennes, Hauts-de-France and Franche-Comté. It was traditional for boys to throw flour at girls after school to bring them luck. A custom born from a legend which says that Saint Nicholas multiplied flour to protect a region from famine. During the feast of Saint-Nicolas, “manalas” (a milk bread in the shape of a little man supposed to represent the bishop), are very common in bakeries in Alsace.
Did Saint Nicholas inspire Santa Claus?
Saint Nicholas is considered the ancestor of Santa Claus. Its English name, Santa Claus, is also a distortion of the Dutch term Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicolas).
In the 12th century, the cult of Nicholas of Myra arrived in the West. Saint Nicholas becomes the patron saint of children and the Church associates his benevolent and generous image with the feast of the Nativity. After the reform, in the 16th century, the cult of Saint Nicholas was banned (like that of all other saints) in several European countries but remains alive in certain regions. In the Netherlands, the figure of the saint was then transformed into a semi-secular character, the famous Sinter Klaas.
It was only from the 19th century that Saint Nicholas actually took on the appearance of Santa Claus. In 1822, the American pastor Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem which met with great success and gave Saint Nicholas, who had already become Santa Claus, a popular and secular image, notably by replacing his donkey with a sleigh.
The American designer Thomas Nast added a modern vision of Santa Claus, from 1860: he installed him at the North Pole and dressed him in a fur-trimmed garment and a hat. Even if, since the Middle Ages, Saint Nicholas has been represented with a large beard, a bishop’s crozier, a red cape and a miter, in 1931 the Coca-Cola company popularized its red and white color. From then on, the image of Santa Claus will take on a global dimension.
In France, the figure of Santa Claus arrived in homes at the end of the Second World War, by American soldiers. In 1946, the song Small Santa pays tribute to children who lost their fathers in war.
Santa Claus is therefore an Anglo-Saxon and secularized adaptation of Saint Nicholas.
What is the difference between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus?
The major difference is the date and method of distribution of gifts which differs between Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas: the latter comes down the chimney to place the gifts under the Christmas tree on the night of December 24 to 25. Saint Nicholas distributes his gifts on December 6, often by placing them in children’s shoes or giving them directly.
Their mode of transport is also different: Santa travels through the air on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Saint Nicholas is often depicted on horseback or sometimes on a donkey.
Finally, the traditions are not the same between these two emblematic figures of Christmas. Regarding Saint Nicholas, during his visits, he is accompanied by Father Fouettard who will scold children who have not been good.
Why do we hang stockings on the fireplace for Christmas?
It is Saint Nicholas who is said to be at the origin of this tradition. Legend has it that he saved three young girls who did not have a dowry, necessary to consider marriage and to avoid prostitution. When Saint Nicholas learned of this situation, he is said to have thrown gold coins out the window of their house and they fell inside their socks, hanging above the fireplace to dry.