Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra in today's Turkey. He lived in the IV century. Although he was known for giving gifts in secret, he gained international fame for his clandestine generosity.
Saint Nicholas, the children's benefactor
Saint Nicolas is said to have saved three children who were kidnapped by a butcher. They were cut to pieces by the sadist and then put into the barrels. Saint Nicholas came to the butcher's house, asking for the meat, and received the boys, whose bodies miraculously came together. They were brought to life again. There is another famous legend about the saint, connected with his charitable work. Once he noticed a poor family, the father of whose was pondering upon the possibility of selling the daughters to sexual slavery because he had no money for the dowry. He decided to leave bags of gold on the windowsills of the daughters, to prevent the disastrous faith. After his death, Saint Nicholas became the patron of merchants, repentant thieves, children, and unmarried people.
The reception of the myth of Saint Nicholas in France
In France, there is another version of Santa Claus, which is specifically French. It is called Père Noël. He performs the same duties as Santa Claus, but the people do not see him as a bishop as much as Santa Claus is viewed. It is rather a gift bringer, twin-similar to Santa Claus, but as if reduced to the function. The same is with Father Christmas, which is the same with Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus). The name versions are specially tailored for children, who look for presents, and that is the fact. The French version of Santa Claus, Pere Noel, is also called Papa Noël or Daddy Christmas. In the Basque country there is a Santa Claus version named Bizarzuri (White Beard) and in Britanny, northwest of France, Tad Nedeleg, a character, which is associated with the Welsch Tad Nadolig.
In the shadow of Pere Noel
In the shadow of Pere Noel, there is a danger lurking. Santa brings a gift. But are all of the children good? Do they behave well during the year? Certainly not all of them. To such Pere Noel gives lectures and, if needed, he has something more in store. It is his helper, called Le Père Fouettard, who wears black and beats the badly behaved children. He is dangerous and has whips with him. As we can imagine, this sort of ritual intimidation of children was more substantial in the past, and children received a real beating. Nowadays is more symbolic. Interestingly, the dark figure, associated with Santa, is surprisingly called... Robert. In France, it is another name for the devil. The dark character is also present in Germany, and its name is called Ruprecht or Knecht Ruprecht. In the US and other English-speaking countries, he is called a Bogeyman.
Waiting for the Santa Claus
Santa Claus comes to the children twice: on the 6th and 25th of December. As in the US, he fills children stocking with presents. They don't wait passively for his coming, they prepare stockings or wooden shoes called sabots, to be filled with the gifts. They also want to accommodate Santa Claus and they leave for him things they deem necessary. Usually, it is a drink, and carrots for his donkey (because in France Santa rides a donkey). The French Santa Claus is very much like the US. As in the US, he comes in through the chimney. Interestingly, children can wait for him due to another occasion than the celebrations of the 6th and 25th of December. They anticipate his answer after writing him letters. He is a public figure, and as such, he had been ordained by the government to answer every letter addressed to him by a postcard. It happened in 1962 and since this time every letter sent by children are being answered.
French Saint Nicholas Festival in Nancy
In Nancy there is a parade in remembrance of Saint Nicholas. The route of the march is lit by a multitude of candles. The feast commemorating the saint lasts for 40 days. Its celebrations are both religious and non-religious. Some of them are even very down-to-earth and practical. For example, during the event saint Nicholas is visiting schools, and hands out gifts. The classes often make a photo with him and it is reproduced in the local newspaper.
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