This post may be a bit late. If so, it’s all the fault of St. Nikolaus.

St. Nikolaus is patron saint of Sailors, children, pawnbrokers, and several cities, ans he is celebrated today in Germany. I can’t help feel sorry for him being saddled with pawnbrokers, but there we go. He’s also the real figure behind Santa Claus, which is a mangled version of the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ (Who seems to come earlier to the Netherlands, according to David Hembrow) As far as we know, Nikolaus (who was never officially made a saint) was a bishop from a wealthy family and a concern for the poor in his city. He lived in Asia Minor (Turkey) roughly between March the 15th 270 and Dec 6th 346 AD, so there wasn’t like there was a social security net at the time. There are loads of stories about him and his nocturnal habit of giving money to the poor. The most famous is that there was a father of three daughters who was very poor and unable to give them a dowry. As they were unable to marry they were most likely destined for a career of prostitution or begging, and when St. Nikolaus heard about this he tactfully lobbed three bags of gold through the window of the house. The stories vary: one suggests that the father was watching to catch his benefactor, and St. Nikolaus then dropped the bag down the chimney where it got caught in one of the girl’s stockings, hanging out to dry by the fire, giving rise to a tradition familiar to many of us.

The stories came to Germany via the Hanseatic league which adopted the saint to protect their sea trade. After that it spread across Germany, and last night our three boys all put a boot outside the front door so St. Nikolaus could plonk nice things in it. I’m told that in more robust times naughty children were threatened with St. Nikolaus’ servant. This character was apparently was equipped with Goats legs to walk on, which is enough to put enyone in a bad mood. He would offer to take naughty children off to the dark forest or drop them in a nearby river. Naughty children who were not carried off may get a stick in their shoe instead of nice treats.

Our boys didn’t do badly: they each got a small finger puppet, some chocolate and a model animal and since then they went off to see a familiar ‘St. Nikolaus’ across the road who gave them all an orange, some more chocolate and peanuts, hence the delayed blog entry- it’s been a busy morning.

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