La légende de Saint Nicolas
St. Nicolas comes primarily in Alsace,Nord-Pas-de-Calais (French Flanders), and in Lorraine, where he is patron. A little donkey carries baskets filled with children’s gifts, biscuits and sweets. The whole family gets ready for the saint’s arrival on 6 December, with grandparents telling stories of the saint. The most popular one (also the subject of a popular French children’s song) is of three children who wandered away and got lost. Cold and hungry, a wicked butcher lured them into his shop where he killed them and salted them away in a large tub. Through St. Nicolas’ help the boys were revived and returned to their families, earning him a reputation as protector of children. The evil butcher followed St. Nicolas in penance ever since Père Fouettard. In France, statues and paintings often portray this event, showing the saint with children in a barrel.
Bakeries and home kitchens are a hive 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. He is sometimes accompanied by an actor playing Père Fouettard who carries switches to threaten the children who fear he will advise St. Nicolas to pass them by on his gift-giving rounds.