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  • Valeriia Kovalenko

Saint Nicholas Day: Origin and Traditions

Saint Nicholas’ life is surrounded by many legends, which differ depending on each country's own retellings. Some aspects of his life, however, are universally agreed upon. Nicholas was an early bishop of Greek descent, born into a wealthy family, and a large fortune heir. He was a very largess person and despite his wealth, was not interested in playing around with his peers. Instead, he devoted his life from the time that he was a young child to helping those in need. A regular church-goer, everyone in his hometown admired him and his commendable deeds. For instance, one version of a legend says that the Saint noticed a man with three daughters who were on the verge of poverty and decided to help them. At night, when no one would have seen, he threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window and the chimney.

The date of his death, the 6th of December, became dedicated to honouring the Saint. Since its inception, the holiday has become a fan-favourite, loved here in Luxembourg by all children. Since the middle of November, they are already completely prepared and all that remains is to wait…Wait until the 6 of December, on which morning they will look into their stockings and find either a gift from generous Kleeschen, rewarding good behaviour, or a wooden stick from his colleague Housécker (Father Whipper), punishing badly behaved children. Only they can decide if children behave worthy of the long-awaited present.

On the eve of St.Nicholas day, the protagonist St.Nicholas, a white-bearded old man dressed up in silk garments and a red 'mitre' (Bishops cap) and holding a crook in his hand visits Luxembourgish schools across the country, rewarding good and wise children by giving them sweet gifts or toys. His companion, Housécker, wears a black coat and serves to scare the children into being well-behaved. To cheer up pupils and promote the holiday spirit, festive games and concerts consisting of symbolic New Year's songs and dances are organised.

One of the Luxembourgish traditions for the 6th of December holiday is the 'Boxemännchen'. In December, all the bakeries in Luxembourg sell cookies shaped and painted like faces or people. Historically, these cookies were the standard gift from St.Nicholas to well-behaved children, but over time they have become a popular pastry nationwide, even sold in grocery stores.

In Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas Day may even be celebrated more than Christmas, or at least more highly regarded in the eyes of children. This year in order to properly celebrate St. Nicholas Day, New Year's fairs, markets, and amusements have been open to the public throughout the country since mid-November. Adults and children can immerse themselves in the ambiance of the upcoming holiday or just have a good time with their family in the holiday atmosphere complete with festive lights throughout the city.

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