ENGLISCH/948: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (212) - what about St Nicholas (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook,

Since some Christmas traditions in Great Britain are completely different, I'm wondering if there will be a St Nicholas Day in England on December 6? And how is it celebrated in your country?

Manon B. (Paris, France)


Dear Ms B.,

Saint Nicholas' Day is celebrated on the 6th of December every year. But I'm afraid that for most children in Britain this means nothing more than eating another piece of chocolate from their Advent calendar.

I do know, of course, that there are many traditions and festivities in continental Europe to mark this special date. By the way, some legends which entwine themselves around Saint Nicholas would fit better into a thriller or horror novel today than into the cosy Christmas season.

One legend has it that three young children got lost. They became cold and hungry and were found by an evil butcher. The butcher then killed the children and preserved them in salt. Saint Nicholas is said to have found the children and brought them back to life. He then returned them to their families and is now known as the patron saint of children.

The most famous story about Saint Nicholas concerns a poor man with three daughters but no money for their dowries, so they couldn't be married. One night Nicholas dropped a purse of coins down the chimney into the house so that the eldest daughter would have enough money to get married. The purse fell into a stocking, put by the fire to dry. Saint Nicholas did this again, so that the second daughter could marry as well. When the third daughter was of marriageable age, the father wanted to find out who the friendly donor was and kept watch by the fireplace night after night until Saint Nicholas actually returned with his present for the youngest child. It is said that Nicholas begged the father not to tell anyone because he did not want his good deeds to be known. However, the story soon got out and from then on, whenever anyone received a mystery gift, it was said to be from Saint Nicholas.

So if you have ever wondered why people in Britain hang stockings up by the fireplace on Christmas Eve to get Father Christmas (alias Santa Claus also known as Saint Nicholas) to fill them with gifts and goodies. That's why.

In Britain nowadays, children will learn about the story of Saint Nicholas in school and may learn songs or poems. Children will usually receive chocolate or sweets and sometimes small presents. But there is no special tradition like in Holland, where children leave clogs and shoes out on the 5th December, in the hope they will be filled overnight with chocolates from Saint Nicholas.

So, in fact we do not have any traditional celebrations on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas' death in Britain. And although some of the traditions and rituals of Christmas, such as leaving out a shoe or stocking to be filled, are similar to the traditions of Saint Nicholas Day, in my opinion also Saint Nicks' Day should definitely become a much bigger event in the UK!

Miranda Gobbledygook

4. Dezember 2018

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