Did you know that the tradition of bringing gifts in St. Nicholas’ name originated in France? At the beginning of the twelfth century, nuns began leaving gifts in secret at the houses of poor children on the eve of St. Nicholas Day which is December 6th. The custom caught on rapidly in other parts of Europe and was soon practiced by both the rich and the poor. That’s when the custom of gift-giving in December was established. Now some people celebrate the gift giving custom on St. Nicholas Day and others on Christmas Day.
It was around this same time that St. Nicholas transformed from being a young bishop with a dark beard to an old man with a white beard. People began to see him as a version of Odin, the powerful pagan god of northern Europe. The legend says that on December 21st, the Winter Solstice, Odin can be seen riding through the night skies on a white horse. With the blending of these stories, St. Nicholas not only acquired a white beard, but also a white horse for his mid-European visits.
In France there is a St. Nicholas Song they sing called La Légende de Saint Nicolas. This song is about another St Nicholas legend. It’s a sadder one about a butcher who slaughtered three little kids and salted them like pork. Later St. Nicholas brought them back to life. This is considered one of the 21 miracles of St. Nicholas and the reason he is often referred to as the saint of children. If you can get past the gruesome story, it’s a catchy tune. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZZqwKZVLbE