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On St Nicholas’ Eve

December 6, 2016
by the gentle author

On St Nicholas Eve, Paul Bommer tells the tale of St Nicholas and Gimlet Bar are serving cocktails at Leila’s Shop tonight from 6-9pm if you fancy a seasonal celebration…

Illustration by Paul Bommer

St Nicholas was the greek Bishop of Myra (now Demre in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey) in the early fourth Century AD. Many miracles are attributed to his intercession and, over the centuries, he became a hugely popular saint. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas (St Nick). In 1087 his relics were furtively transported to Bari in South-Eastern Italy, which is why is he sometimes referred to Saint Nicholas of Bari. His feastday is today, December 6th. Happy St Nick’s Day!

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, pawnbrokers, children, and students (amongst others) throughout Christendom. He is show here in classical episcopal attire, with a few of the symbols assigned to him on the right – the three golden balls, a ship and infants in a barrel.

The most famous story involves helping out a poor man with three daughters. The father couldn’t afford a dowry for his three girls – it would have meant they remained unmarried and possibly be forced into prostitution. St Nick interceded by secreting donating three purses of gold coins over three nights, one for each of the three daughters. In some stories he threw the purses in through a window to avoid being identified as the donor, in others he dropped the money down the chimney, where it landed – plop – into the stocking of one of the girls. Hence the pawnbroker’s balls, Christmas stockings and gift-giving associated with the saint.

Another legend tells how a famine struck the land and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. Hence the symbol of kids in a barrell or vat (I have only shown two not three as I ran our of space!) and hence St Nick’s association with children.

However, it is likely that the legend grew up from a misinterpretation of ancient icons and images of the saint where he is shown baptising heathens in a font. To show reverence for the saint, the men being christened were shown small, and over time, misread as being nippers in brine.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. December 6, 2016

    Super illustration by Bomber-Yes Saint Nic was a top Saint. !Can I say it, blessed be his name. He was good at PR through his many icons which has his portrait and is still revered by many. GA its a nice touch having a cocktail party, life about having fun in a way its a pre Christmas warm up. Please salute the Saint in your way on the day. So have fun for us ,we who are scattered around the universe and cannot attend. Poet John

  2. December 6, 2016

    Happy St Nick’s Day!
    Am in the area, will try to make it other commitments allowing xxx

  3. December 6, 2016

    I will be there in spirit

  4. December 6, 2016

    Interesting to see Leila’s shop in the repeat on Arnold Circus on Secret History of our Streets on BBC4 tonight. When I first watched this in 2012, I had not discovered Spitalfields Life, so it was just an interesting little shop, not part of the Gentle Author’s world.
    I visited Arnold Circus in 2015. Although I had seen it feature in several TV shows and films, I was surprised at what a peaceful oasis it was and what a great place it would be to live.

    Good wishes on St Nicholas’ Eve.

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