Today, the 6th of December, is Saint Nicolas Day in Europe.
Read on to learn about this special day in France …
And learn about the delicious treats you’ll discover in bakeries and patisseries as part of the celebrations.
Saint Nicolas Day is a religious observance and not a nationwide holiday. It is, however, celebrated by many in France.
Saint Nicolas Day is derived from the history of Saint Nicolas of Myra, a real person who lived in the southwest of Turkey between 250 and 270 AD. He as the Bishop of Myra.
The story has it that during his lifetime, Saint Nicolas developed a reputation for gift-giving. He put coins in people’s shoes and became known as the protector of children and widow. He was a kind and generous man.
The tradition of Saint Nicolas lays behind the North American figure of Santa Claus and Father Christmas in the United Kingdom.
The story of Saint Nicolas developed over time. At some point, Saint Nicolas was joined in his visits to children’s homes by an evil character who punished naughty children.
Sound familiar? Remember being told you had to be good, otherwise Santa wouldn’t come!
In France, the tradition of Saint Nicolas is very popular in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine.
The custom is that on the night of December the 5th, children place their shoes beside the fireplace or at the door. By morning, their little shoes are filled with chocolates, candies, nuts and fruits. Then during the day of the 6th, a little donkey donkey carries baskets filled with biscuits and sweets into the village.
In Alsace and Lorraine, the whole family gets ready for Saint Nicolas’ arrival. Grandparents share popular stories, too.
One such story often told is a rather grim tale of 3 boys who wandered off into the forest without permission. They got lost and grew cold and hungry.
In their pitiful state they were easy prey for a wicked butcher who lured them to his butcher shop. There, the butcher chopped up the boys and stuffed their bodies into a barrel.
Terrifying, right? Not exactly happy Christmas stories! But there’s a purpose to these grim tales.
All ends well. Saint Nicolas comes to the rescue. He revives the boys and returns them to their families.
And as punishment, the wicked butcher forced to do his penance by accompanying Saint Nicolas wherever he went as a reminder to other children to always behave well and obey their parents.
Stories like these are told and sung across Europe at this time of the year. You’ll also see statues and paintings across Alsace and Lorraine depicting the scenes of Saint Nicolas and the evil butchter known as Père Fouettard (the flogging father).
In the villages of the north east, people dress as Saint Nicolas and Père Fouettard to play out the roles and give out chocolates and candies to kids. Songs and poems are sung. Stories are recited in schools. Crafts depicting Saint Nicolas are also made and sold.
And of course, as the French can’t do anything without delicious food being, they bake and share a number of Saint Nicolas Day specialties.
For Saint Nicolas Day, you’ll find bakeries and patisseries across France offering delicious Gingerbread Biscuits in the form of Saint Nicolas. They also bake Mannele, a brioche shaped like a saint). And of course, children munch away on the chocolates, candies, nuts and fruits (espeically clemintines) they received from Saint Nicolas the night before.
So, if you’re in France this holiday season, look out for these yummy Christmas treats. Try a gingerbread biscuit or mannele. Indulge in a special Christmas chocolates you’ll find in bakeries, patisseries and, best of all, the finest chocolate shops of France.
What better way to celebrate the holiday season than through a little gourmandise?
Enjoy, and happy debut holiday season to you all.