6th December. Today is the day when the Christmas festivities officially begin in France. It all starts with St Nicolas.
St. Nicolas is the patron saint of Lorraine.
The whole family gets ready for the saint’s arrival on December 6, with grandparents telling stories of the saint.
The most popular one is of three children who wandered away and got lost. Cold and hungry, a wicked butcher lured them into his shop where he attacked and salted them away in a large tub. Through the intervention of St. Nicolas, the boys were restored to their families. This story led to Nicolas being recognized as the protector of children.
To celebrate St. Nicolas on 6th December, the French decorate their homes and eat huge brioches studded with candied fruits.
The tradition of celebrating St Nicolas is not just observed in Northern France, but also in many European countries and is sometimes even more popular than Christmas. For instance, 6 December is very popular in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Switzerland.
On the evening of December 5th, before going to bed, children place their shoes or a large stocking in front of the fireplace so that St Nicolas can deposit his presents there. They also leave a glass of mulled wine or of milk for him and some sugar and carrots for his donkey, which very much resembles the Christmas Eve tradition. In fact, originally, St Nicolas, who was a bishop whose main purpose was to help the poor and the needy, eventually became known as Santa Claus.