The legend — or rather the legends — of Saint Nicolas are always about his qualities as a protector. He protects prisoners, for example, since he saved three young tribunes from Constantine from death. He also shelters sailors, especially those who go down the Moselle River to reach the Rhine River with their rafts of fir logs. 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 the people they were in love with. Finally, he is the protector of children, symbolized by the three little ones who were cut in pieces by a butcher and whom he saved by taking them out of the salt pot they were trapped in. Every year, we celebrate the latter legend 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 will stop his donkey in front of the school to give them chocolate and gingerbread. Saint Nicolas, with his white beard and 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 — the procession through the streets of Épina —, 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 if you wish to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this celebration. The Patron Saint is here indeed, the miracle has taken place, the people from Épinal and the many visitors hasten to see and applaud him. The tone is set and everyone falls back into childhood. It is now time to find a place on the parade route to enjoy the procession. Music, dancing, enchanting scenery, the procession is eagerly awaited and makes thousands of visitors dream for an evening.