Do you know about Saint Nicolas, the popular festival dedicated to children, emblematic of the Grand-Est Region and Lorraine in particular? Every year, young and old meet at a nocturnal parade in the streets of the town, where Saint Nicholas passes on his decorated float, followed by Father Fouettard, who reprimands children with his whip. The children from the surrounding towns and villages are invited to take part in this great festival and to take a place on the decorated floats, wearing costumes in the style of the universe which they represent. Heroes from cartoons or ancient legends, they find themselves at the heart of the parade and have the pleasure of being acclaimed by the public.
The legend and its tradition
On Saturday, during the first weekend in December, Saint Nicolas passes and distributes treats such as sweets, chocolates, dried fruits and ginger bread with his picture on it to good children. Father Fouettard who with his big black beard, coarse woollen clothes and boots, evokes the "Butcher" in the legend and punishes the children who were bold threatening to give them a whipping with his whip made of broom and furze branches!
In the heart of every person from the Vosges, there is the memory of the festival of Saint Nicholas in Épinal, where cheeks were turned red by the cold, families and friends were trying to warm themselves around gingerbread and mulled wine. The illuminated town centre, the wooden huts of the sweets and crafts sellers in the Village of Saint Nicolas, the big fir tree in the square - Place des Vosges with its ice rink where the children skate before the big parade - everything contributes to make the City of Images at this time of the year a major festivity that we never forget.
The feast of Saint Nicholas which is celebrated in Lorraine is also renowned in several European countries. The traditions vary from one country to another but Saint Nicolas is always there with gifts for children which make them confuse him sometimes with Santa Claus. Originally, the children put food for the donkey carrying Saint Nicholas at their front door. Thus, the next day the good ones found treats in place of their offerings and the most turbulent found a “gift” of a rod from Father Fouettard.
An animated month of December
In Épinal, throughout the month of December, the Village of Saint Nicolas invites walkers to a gourmet visit with delicious smells escaping from the chalets. Along the Moselle River and in all the squares, art crafts stalls stand alongside mulled wine and gingerbread ones. Everyone can buy for the holiday season and enjoy a hot brioche or a dozen oysters served on ice. In the heart of the Village of Saint Nicolas, punctuated by musical and street theatre activities, an ice rink welcomes children under the foliage of a gigantic fir tree which has come from a nearby forest.