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St Nicholas Day

Monday 1 December 2014

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The tradition of Saint Nicholas’ Day, on December 6th (19 December in most Orthodox countries), is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of Saint Nicholas, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. "Santa Claus" is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas.Saint Nicholas is spelt ’Sankt Nikolaus’ in German.

France

Saint Nicholas originates primarily in Alsace, Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French Flanders), and in Lorraine, where he is patron. A little donkey carries baskets filled with children’s gifts, biscuits and sweets. The whole family gets ready for the saint’s arrival on 6 December, with grandparents telling stories of the saint. The most popular one (also the subject of a popular French children’s song) is of three children who wandered away and got lost. Cold and hungry, a wicked butcher lured them into his shop where he killed them and salted them away in a large tub. Through St. Nicolas’ help the boys were revived and returned to their families, earning him a reputation as protector of children. The evil butcher followed St. Nicolas in penance ever since as Père Fouettard. In France, statues and paintings often portray this event, showing the saint with children in a barrel.

Bakeries and home kitchens are hives of activity as spiced gingerbread biscuits and mannala (a brioche shaped like the saint) are baked. In schools, children learn songs and poems and create arts and crafts about St. Nicolas, while in nursery schools, a man portraying St. Nicolas gives away chocolates and sometimes little presents. He is sometimes accompanied by an actor playing Père Fouettard, who like his German counterpart Krampus, carries switches to threaten the children who fear he will advise St. Nicolas to pass them by on his gift-giving rounds.

Malta

In Suhuan, St. Nicholas (mt: San Nikola, less commonly San Niklaw) is the patron saint of the town of Siġġiewi where his feast is celebrated on the last Sunday in June. The parish church, dedicated to the saint, was built between 1676 and 1693. It was designed by the Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafà, with the portico and naves being added by Nicola Zammit in the latter half of the 19th century. The ruins of a former parish church are still visible and have recently undergone restoration?

Ireland

The saint who inspired the legend of Santa Claus (Naoṁ Nioclás) is believed to have been buried in Newtown Jerpoint in Kilkenny some 800 years ago. Originally buried in Myra in modern-day Turkey, his body was moved from there to Italy in 1169, but said to have been taken afterwards to Ireland by Nicholas de Frainet, a distant relative. The church of Saint Nicholas was built by his family there and dedicated to the memory of the saint. A slab grave on the ground of this church claims to hold his remains. There is a yearly Mass in relation to the memory of Saint Nicholas, but otherwise the celebration is quite low key.

Italy

St. Nicholas (San Nicola) is the patron of the city of Bari, where it is believed he is buried. Its deeply felt celebration is called the Festa di San Nicola, held on the 7–9 of May. In particular on 8 May the relics of the saint are carried on a boat on the sea in front of the city with many boats following (Festa a mare). As Saint Nicholas is said to protect children and virgins, on 6 December there is a ritual called the Rito delle nubili: unmarried women wishing to find a husband can attend to an early-moring Mass, in which they have to turn around a column 7 times. A similar tradition is currently observed in Sassari, where during the day of Saint Nicholas, patron of the city, gifts are given to young women who need help to get married.

In the provinces of Trieste, Udine, Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino St. Nicholas (San Nicolò) is celebrated with gifts given to children on the morning of 6 December and with a fair called Fiera di San Nicolò during the first weeks of December. Depending on the cultural background, in some families this celebration is more important than Christmas.

Like in Austria, in South Tyrol Saint Nicholas comes with krampuses. Instead, in Val Canale (Udine) Saint Nicholas comes to chase the krampuses: after a parade of krampuses running after people, Saint Nicholas comes on a chariot and give gifts to children.

Spain

St. Nicholas ("San Nicolás") is the patron of the University of Valladolid, one of the two medieval universities of Spain, and Alicante city.

Portugal

In one city (Guimarães) in Portugal, St. Nicholas (São Nicolau) has been celebrated since the Middle Ages as the patron saint of high-school students, in the so-called Nicolinas, a group of festivities that occur from 29 November to 7 December each year. In the rest of Portugal this is not celebrated.

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Sinterklaas in the Netherlands in 2007

Belgium, the Netherlands and the Lower Rhineland (Germany)

In the Netherlands the primary occasion for gift-giving is the 5th of December, when his reputed birthday is celebrated. In Belgium they celebrate Sinterklaas on the morning of the 6th of December.

In the days leading up to 5 or 6 December (starting when Saint Nicholas has arrived by steamboat around mid-November), young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing Sinterklaas songs. Often they put a carrot or some hay in the shoes, as a gift to St. Nicholas’ horse. (In recent years the horse has been named Amerigo in The Netherlands and Slechtweervandaag in Flanders.) The next morning they will find a small present in their shoes, ranging from sweets to marbles or some other small toy. On the evening of 5 December, Sinterklaas brings presents to every child who has behaved well in the past year (in practice, just as with Santa Claus, all children receive gifts without distinction). This is often done by placing a bag filled with presents outside the house or living room, after which a neighbour or parent bangs the door or window, pretending to be Sinterklaas’ assistant. Another option is to hire or ask someone to dress up as Sinterklaas and deliver the presents personally. Sinterklaas wears a bishop’s robes including a red cape and mitre and is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dress, dating back two centuries. These helpers are called ’Zwarte Pieten’ ("Black Petes") or "Père Fouettard" in the French-speaking part of Belgium.

The myth is that, if a child had been naughty, the Zwarte Pieten put all the naughty children in sacks, and Sinterklaas took them to Spain (it is believed that Sinterklaas comes from Spain, where he returns after 5 December). Therefore, many Sinterklaas songs still allude to a watching Zwarte Piet and a judging Sinterklaas.

In the past number of years, there has been a recurrent discussion about the perceived politically incorrect nature of the Moorish helper. In particular Dutch citizens with backgrounds from Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles might feel offended by the Dutch slavery history connected to this emblem and regard the Zwarte Pieten to be racist. Others state that the black skin color of Zwarte Piet originates in his profession as a chimneysweep, hence the delivery of packages though the chimney.

In recent years, Christmas (along with Santa Claus) has been pushed by shopkeepers as another gift-giving festival, with some success; although, especially for young children, Saint Nicholas’ Eve is still much more important than Christmas. The rise of Father Christmas (known in Dutch as de Kerstman) is often cited as an example of globalisation and Americanisation.

On the Frisian islands (Waddeneilanden), the Sinterklaas feast has developed independently into traditions very different from the one on the mainland.

In Luxembourg, Kleeschen is accompanied by the Houseker a frightening helper wearing a brown monk’s habit.


- Source : en.wikipedia.org




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