Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of Lorraine and became so through his service to children in the region during past centuries when he was passing through on travels. The beginning of December marks the beginning of the “Fêtes,” which include all the holidays we find in America as well as Saint Nicolas, which is December 6th. Since this day fell in the middle of the week this year, two weekends were filled with many events honoring this beloved saint.
The story goes like this: three children were playing during the summer and got lost in the woods. As it was getting dark, they searched for shelter and finally found a house where a butcher lived. They asked to stay the night and the butcher let the unknowing children inside his home. As soon as the door was shut, he sliced all three into bits and conserved them in a barrel, where they lay for three years despite the search efforts of their families (yes, this is what they tell the youngsters!). One day, Saint Nicolas happened to be riding through the forest on his beloved donkey, and he comes across the house. He realized that a horrific event happened there with his divine sixth sense, which lead him to ask the butcher if he can stay the night. He then used his magic saint powers to chase off the butcher and send him running off while he revived the three children, put them to their intact state, and returned them to their much-surprised families, unscathed.
Now, every year on the 6th during dinnertime, families put warm milk out in front of their front door accompanied by a carrot for Saint Nicolas’ donkey. These treats invite his spirit into the home, and by after dinner, there are gifts left magically for each child to enjoy. The carrot is disappears and the milk is drunk.
There is a massive medieval Cathedral (Saint Nicolas de Port) just twenty minutes south of Nancy, which was built to honor the man for his deeds. The week after the 6th, my host brothers all went there with their Scouts of Europe troops to join in the experience of circling the cathedral for hours, singing happy chants, written on candlesticks that they hold. The weekend before, there was a firework show that told the story of the three children in Stanislas Square and we all decided to go. There were 25,000 people crammed into the square to watch. We thankfully got there early before they cut off the inflow of the crowd. What a spectacular event! Maybe even better than most 4th of July’s I’ve been to! The next day featured a parade where the butcher and Saint Nicolas made an appearance on floats pulled by tractors through the town.
Of course, to keep warm, we couldn’t help but partake in the hot spiced wine for sale all through the city. In the pictures, I’ve included the lights of the town as well as some features of the week-long spectacle!
I also included some pictures to illustrate the differences between “bien fait” brie (well-aged) and young brie. The former has holes and is squishier than the other while the latter is firmer. Take a look! We don’t necessarily have these differences in the US since there is a huge stigma around raw cheese, as you can read in my previous post.