December 6th is St. Nicholas Day here in Belgium, and throughout most of Europe. St. Nicholos is NOT synonymous with Santa Claus, as you might expect. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and comes to visit all children on his saint’s day. The actual tale of how he became the patron saint of children here in Belgium is actually a little gruesome and, well, scary.
The Legend of Saint Nicholas (translated from French)
Three little children sought the plain
Gleaners of the golden grain.
They lingered past the angel-song,
And dewy shadows swept along.
‘Mid the silence of the wood
The butcher’s lonely cottage stood,
“Butcher! lodge us for the night,
Lodge us till the morning light.”
“Enter in, ye children small,
I can find a place for all.”
The butcher seized a knife straitway,
And did the little creatures slay.
He put them in a tub of brine,
In pieces small as they were swine.
St. Nicholas, at seven years end,
His way did to the forest wend.
He sought the butcher’s cottage drear:
“Butcher! I would rest me here!”
“Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
You are welcome, St. Nicholas!
Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
There’s place for you the night to pass.”
Scarce had the Saint his entrance made,
He would the supper board was laid.
“Will you have of ham a slice?”
“I will not, for it is not nice!”
“Of this veal you’ll take a bit?”
“No! I do not relish it.”
“Give me of the little swine,
For seven long years have laid in brine!”
The butcher caught the words he said,
And forthwith from the portal fled.
“Butcher! butcher! do not flee,
Repent and God will pardon thee!”
St. Nicholas the tub drew near,
And lo! he placed three fingers there.
The first one said, “I sweetly rest!”
The second said, “I too am blest!”
The third replied, “Tis well with me,
In Paradise I seem to be!”
Freely translated from the French by English poet James Henry Dixon
So…. kids beware of strangers, because they might just cut off your heads and prepare your bodies to be eaten. Sounds more like a Halloween tale to me! St. Nicholas comes along, miraculously restores the children to life, and reforms the butcher. The butcher, incidentally, is most likely the Black Peter or Pere Fouttard (Father Spanking) that is said to travel with St. Nicholas, and will dole out punishments to children that haven’t been good.
Luckily, at Liam’s age they don’t tell them this tale. St. Nicholas came to Liam’s school on December 5th. Liam got to speak with him and, although he was a little standoffish, did give St. Nicholas a kiss and was more than willing to accept the candy he was offered.
Our good friend Katrin surprised us with a homemade stocking filled with typical St. Nicholas Day goodies for Liam. An apple, some clementines, nut and dried-fruit mixes. A huge thank you, Katrin, for being so thoughtful! And for leaving out the candy. Liam’s getting enough of that in school right now!
Showing off his goodies… and his bedhead.
Looking for more. There was also a great winter hat.
December 6th the kids here still go to school. They get their treats at home, then go to school for a regular day, but festivities too. Liam brought home this superb, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind decoration. It’s St. Nicholas, obviously, and was filled with candy. Ahhh, the candy. Liam’s had more candy in the last few days than in his whole life!