The legend or rather the legends of Saint Nicolas are always about his quality as a protector. He protects prisoners, for example, he saved three young tribunes from Constantine from death. He also shelters sailors, especially those with their rafts of fir logs going down the Moselle River to meets up the Rhine River. He cares for young girls and it is said that he richly endowed three young maidens whose father wanted to sell them as slaves. This gave the girls the opportunity to marry those they were in love with. Finally, he is the protector of children, symbolized by the three little ones, cut in pieces by a butcher, whom he saved by taking them out of the salt pot. It is the latter legend which is celebrated every year in Lorraine and particularly in Épinal.
Saint Nicolas at school
The children in Épinal have always celebrated Saint Nicolas at school, where they quietly wait for his arrival and that of the terrible Father Fouettard. For the occasion, they are gathered to sing songs and play sketches in the school hall. Often impressed, they promise to be always "sage comme une petite image” (quiet as a mouse) hoping that the great Saint Nicolas stops his donkey in front of the school to give them chocolate and gingerbread. Saint Nicolas with his white beard, wearing a mitre, makes his entry. He holds his staff and hands out treats from his bag - while Father Fouettard with his black beard rolls terrifying eyes at the children from under his hood.
Every year at around 5.30 p.m. before the traditional Saint Nicolas parade begins its procession through the streets of Épinal, a 30-minute play recounts the legend of Saint Nicolas. The local theatrical troupe the “Companions d’Eleusis" stages the story in a natural setting ideally placed in the square - Place des Vieux Moulin. This setting is accessible to all. The play is almost mandatory in order to enter into the atmosphere of this celebration. The Patron Saint is indeed there, the miracle has taken place, the people from Épinal and the many visitors hasten to see and applaud. The tone is set, so that everyone finds their childhood soul and now it is time to find a place on the parade route so as to enjoy the procession. Music, dancing, enchanting scenery, the procession is eagerly awaited to make thousands of visitors dream for an evening.