December 6, 2018

Happy Saint Nicholas Day in France

On the night of December 5 (the eve of Saint Nicholas) children place their shoes in front of the fireplace and they sing traditional songs to the saint before going to bed. They believe that he will arrive on his donkey carrying treats and gifts for children. On the morning of December 6, children awaken to find their shoes filled with treats. Naughty children receive a little bundle of twigs tied together with a ribbon. Most children will receive some twigs in addition to their presents to represent any times they have been naughty.

Saint Nicholas originates primarily in Alsace, Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French Flanders), and in Lorraine, where he is the patron. A little donkey carries baskets filled with children's gifts, biscuits, and sweets. The whole family gets ready for the saint's arrival, with grandparents telling stories of the saint. The most popular one is of three children who wandered away and got lost. Through St. Nicolas' help, the boys were revived and returned to their families, earning him a reputation as protector of children.

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.

These shoes were left out for Saint Nicholas to fill!

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