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Festivals of Western Europe

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Author Topic: Festivals of Western Europe  (Read 3227 times)
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« Reply #15 on: April 29, 2009, 01:29:40 pm »


    Children write annual letters to Saint Nicholas, the invisible gift-giver, whose black Moorish servant slips down the chimney on this night and leaves toys in the empty shoes set by the fireplace. The child's father always promises to post the letters because he alone knows how to reach the saint.

    Saint Nicholas rides a donkey and is attended by his assistant. The saint sees everything. He knows everything, but no child has ever seen or known him. The children leave carrots and pieces of bread in the chimney corner for Saint Nicholas' donkey who surely will be hungry from journeying across village housetops.

    In the evening parents and children sit close to the fire and tell stories about the life and works of Saint Nicholas, third century Bishop of Myra, who traditionally wears rich robes, gold miter, and an enormous bishod's ring on the left hand. The saint is the friend of all children, but special patron of little boys because of his legendary restoration to life of three small lads, whom a wicked inn-keeper killed, salted down in brine and then served for dinner.

    The children sing charming little songs in their saint's honor. Suddenly a shower of sweets flies through the door. Boys and girls scurry around under tables and chairs to capture their share of booty; but by the time the last bonbon is found, Saint Nicholas has vanished.

    The following day youngsters rise early and run to the chimney to see what the saint has left for them during the night. The shoes contain special treats such as an orange, a piece of marzipan, flat hard cakes known as klaasjes, perhaps an almond-filled letterbanket, or initial of the child's name. Speculaus, a kind of hard spicy gingerbread molded in the form of Saint Nicholas, is a seasonal delicacy all children anticipate. Often there are useful gifts, besides, such as a hand-knit sweater, a pair of bright warm mittens, a gay woolen muffler, or even a suit or pretty frock.

KERSTDAG (Christmas) December 25

    Christmas is a religious season observed by attending special services in the churches and wishing friends and neighbors a Merry Christmas. After midnight mass, the whole family gathers about the Christmas log to celebrate la veille de Noel (Christmas Eve). Ghost stories and tales are told, old ballads sung, and gin freely passed. Sometimes the gIn is lighted as the log falls to ashes. Many popular superstitions exist regarding Christmas Eve when, according to peasant belief, water turns to wine and people can look into the future.

    Children await Christmas morning eagerly. If they are good and have said their prayers faithfully throughout the year, the Angel Gabriel or, in some places, the Child Jesus, is thought to slip an engelskoek (angel's cake), a kind of a bun, under the pillows of sleeping boys and girls.

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