Saint Nicholas and the Pickled Boys
This past Thursday, Dec. 6, was the feast of Saint Nicholas, when children in parts of Europe woke to find candy in their shoes. Some had left carrots in the shoes the night before for the good saint’s donkey. Carrying a saint with his bag full of sweets is hungry work.
Patron saint of children, seamen, and travelers, Nicholas (280-343) was a bishop known for his gifts to those in need. He’s said to have saved three sisters from being sold into slavery by providing gold for their dowries. In another old tale, illustrated above and retold in Benjamin Britten's 1948 Saint Nicholas Cantata, an innkeeper killed and pickled three boys for meat during a famine. The good saint stopped unwitting customers from eating them and brought the boys back to life.
If you want to throw something different into the sweet seasonal mix of lore, carols, and movies, you can always conjure up Saint Nicholas and the pickled boys.
Image: Saint Nicholas Resuscitating Three Youths, by Bicci di Lorenzo, Florence, 1433-35. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain.
Rebecca, glad you enjoyed it too, and for some of the same reasons! Have you ever read some of the original Grimms' fairy tales? The bad person would get placed in a barrel with nails driven into it and rolled down the street until dead. I wonder if children had scary dreams or were just used to that sort of story, the way farm kids are used to animals dying (sometimes sad but not freaked out).
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.