Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saint Nick Among The Camels

A France-Echos contributor named Pistache tells of the photos she (I'll assume it's a girl) took this past week-end in the Belgian city of Liège. While visiting a spacious relatively new mall called Galéries St-Lambert, she noticed a few things worthy of mention.

First, it should be pointed out that in Belgium, as in many regions of Northern Europe, December 6 is celebrated as the festival of St. Nicholas, the 4th century Byzantine bishop who became the patron saint of sailors, merchants and children. It is on this day that children receive gifts, while December 25 is reserved for gift-giving among adults. Malls and shopping centers offer children a chance to visit with St. Nicholas, just as American kids visit Santa Claus. (Santa Claus derives from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", which in turn is a contraction of Sint Nicolaas).

Pistache noticed that the miter (the tall headdress) worn by St. Nicholas no longer bore the sign of the cross as you see in the photo to the left. It had become a vertical line (which you can see in the photo at the France-Echos website). However she was not surprised by this since, according to what she says, she had overheard an employee at another mall explain that St. Nick had been stripped of his cross and his crook so as not to offend the Muslim kids who would feel left out...

The sight that really took her breath away was the scenic display (top photo) where the kindly Saint Nicholas will greet the children: sand, palm trees, Islamic architecture, even a camel! Everything you need to be reminded that this is an ancient European holiday with Christian and pagan German roots...

Pistache warns against retorting that St. Nicholas was Turkish, for he lived long before anyone had ever heard of Turks and she quotes the following passage: "(...)After his death, on December 6, 326, Nicholas became a venerated saint. His conversions and his voyages allowed him to become the patron of fishermen and sailors, and thus his future renown was assured. Worship of him spread throughout the Byzantine Empire and, when needed, helped to support Sicily and Greece in the struggle against Islam..."

For Pistache, the funniest thing is that no one will think anything of it: "You know, in these cold winter months, it's good to think about the sun and last year's vacation in Morocco...Eurabia? Come now, my dear, you are completely paranoid!"

For more on Saint Nicholas see Wikipedia.


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