Dec 6, 2012

A Continentalist in Paris: Saint Nicholas Day

Happy Saint Nicholas Day! T was very excited to find her rubber boot overflowing with goodies this morning.

She received: OUCH! Cupcake Bandaids (which made her remember that she "hoit [her] leggy" )| Ferrero's "Kinder Maxi Mix" with a cute donkey (whom T immediately christened "Donkey" and took to school) | dinosaur cookie cutters from the Natural History Museum | fruit. Plus, she was in for further treats at school.

For those not familiar with the tradition: in many parts of Europe, especially the BeNeLux area and Germany, Saint Nicholas brings children presents on December 5 or 6 depending on local customs. In Germany, children generally leave a (polished) boot on the doorstep for him to fill with sweets on the night of the 5th to the 6th.

Like many regional traditions with folklore elements the story of Saint Nicholas is convoluted, and thus launched a big dinner table debate about the relationship between Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas (whom we call Nikolaus), Pere Noel, Sinterklaas, and the Weihnachtsmann.

In my mythology, they're all the same guy - he comes by once on December 5-6, then again on the evening of December 24 (with the Christkind) to leave the bulk of the presents, and then again on the night of December 24-25 (to fill the stockings). Sister 1, in turn, argued that Nikolaus and the Weihnachtsmann are colleagues (the red robes with white trimmings are their work uniform). Nikolaus comes on the night of December 5-6, collects the Christmas wish lists (which are in the cleaned boots) and leaves small gifts. Nikolaus then gives the Weihnachtsmann the Christmas wish lists so that he can organize the presents for the 24th / 25th.

Wikipedia actually lends sister 1's version more credence, saying that historically "Saint Nicholas" (thus Santa Claus) and "Father Christmas" aren't interchangeable: "although 'Father Christmas' and 'Santa Claus' have for most practical purposes been merged, historically the characters have different origins and are not identical." (Though the statement is conspicuously missing a source.) Researching the topic does allow me to feel partially vindicated since Wikipedia confirms that Coca-Cola really didn't "invent" Santa Claus' current image, contrary to sister 1's pet theory.

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