15 Oct 2010

The Fall of the House of Summer (Part 3)

In Northeastern France (and some Northern/ Eastern European countries) and as part of the pre-Christmas/ Advent calendar (starting on 4th Sunday before Christmas), we celebrate St-Nicolas (St-Nicholas Day, 6th December), a Saint also reputed as a gift-giver. On that day in Northern France, young children (or in certain regions like Picardie, young boys) are traditionally given a present by their parents (some may argue that the tradition is now on the wane).

Vintage St-Nicolas card from Delcampe

The St-Nicholas I am personally aware of has always been pictured as closely resembling Santa Klaus (a.k.a. Sinterklass, a 19th century folklore figure whose origins derive from St-Nicholas). As a result, the popular secular representation of Christmas has blurred St-Nicholas, Santa Klaus and Father Christmas into the the jolly bearded effigy we are familiar with.

In Reform times (16th/ 17th century) the symbol of gift-giving was 'taken' from St-Nicholas and attributed to the Nativity of Christ, more precisely to its assumed birthday, Christmas, 25th December. Yet to children's delight, St-Nicholas' gift-giving tradition has carried on!

Ste-Catherine card by S.A.G.E., printed in Italy, approx. 1986

In Northern France, Ste-Catherine's Day (25th November) celebrates unmarried girls until their 25th birthday. As a 'Catherinette' I used to receive a Ste-Catherine card from my parents and grandma (the one pictured above is one of them, in all its 1980s glory), and (usually) an item of clothing or some cash. The pre-Christmas buzz it generated would keep me going until Christmas Day!

Meanwhile the harvesting theme which we developed earlier in Part 1 is echoed by Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November (US) and 2nd Monday in October (Canada), a secular pre-Christmas gratitude and present-bestowing tradition, whose origins date back to North America's pilgrim days.

We'll end our celebrations with Hannukah, the 8-night long Jewish Festival of Dedication, which falls between late November and late December.

French Seasons Greetings card, by MD Paris (made in France), approx. 1989

Phew, what a busy season Autumn is! Before you know it, you are half-way through the Advent calendar chocolates, then Winter closely followed by the glitter of Christmas descend upon you like invited guests who arrive way too early... You won't even have seen Christmas that the year packs up and a new one lands on you! Did we ever question the fact that Autumn was no cause for celebration?

P.S: The above Seasons Greetings and Ste-Catherine cards are from my personal collection.

Further Browsing:
  • More about Advent (in French)

More Homely Musings:

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