Some historical background
Saint Nicholas was born in 270 A.D. He became Bishop of Myra after the death of his uncle, and spent his life defending the weak and the oppressed. Legend has it that Nicholas revived three children kidnapped and murdered by a butcher. Following that miracle, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children, and the butcher came to be referred to as Père Fouettard, Black Peter in English.
Santa doesn't hold a candle to Nicholas!
Saint Nicholas is two weeks early and as eagerly awaited as Santa. Escorted by his mule during the night of December 5-6, he drops presents and sweets to children who well-behaved. For two days, people celebrate his coming to town. Children promise they'll be good, fearing the Père Fouettard (also known as Hans Trappen in Alsace and Zwarte Piet in Netherlands) will come get them instead. Dressed in a long black coat and big boots, he gets to be the bad guy… for the parents' delight.
Overview of the festivities
Wherever you go, a festive and family atmosphere will take over you tanks to a variety of events. The Saint Nicholas parade, local products tastings, and of course animated Christmas markets form the basis of successful Saint Nicholas celebrations!
Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam
The Dutch are sticklers on traditions. Saint Nicholas arrives by boat to the Netherlands and, each year, the port of arrival changes so as not to favour anyone. Host cities welcome the fresh procession into the streets.
If you are in Amsterdam, make sure you visit the Basilica of Saint Nicholas. Many churches have been built in his name, but it is one of the most beautiful.
Swimming during Saint Nicholas in Zurich
The Samichlaus-Schwimmen, or Saint Nicholas bath, takes place in Zurich. On Sunday, December 4th, hundreds of participants take the plunge in 8°C water for a swim of a few hundred meters. And each year, the challenge attracts more people!
Saint Nicholas Church in Prague
Saint Nicholas celebrations are an ideal opportunity to discover the Church built in the man's name. This early 18th century structure is one of the most beautiful Baroque testimonies in Europe. You can visit it in the heart of Malá Strana, of the oldest parts of town.
Saint Nicholas market in Strasbourg
In France, Saint Nicholas is also the saint patron of the Lorraine region. In Strasbourg, the Saint Nicholas market takes place this year for the first time in the heart of the Poteries neighbourhood. Craftsmen present their own work and choirs sing in turn. You can also have a chat and a mulled wine with Saint Nicholas himself, as well as try some Mannele, famous regional cookies in a man shape, traditionally given away during the celebrations.