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Polemics and a lack of understanding around Saint Nicholas figure

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Dec 06, 2010

PARIS (eTN) - As Eastern and Northern France celebrates today the traditional festivities of Saint Nicholas, a strange controversy was evocated by the French media. For children living in Germany, Scandinavia, and Benelux, as well as Northern and Eastern France, on December 6, Saint Nicholas is probably the most important event every year. Bishop of Myra (in Turkey), St. Nicholas, was known in the IV century as a generous man, particularly devoted to children. The legend surrounding him tells that he was able to perform miracles, generating a wave of devotion all across Central and Northern Europe. With his red cape, his white beard, and its bishop’s miter, Saint Nicholas inspired the figure of Santa Claus.

In Northern and Eastern France, Saint Nicholas processions are turning today into huge popular and commercial events. Every year, the Alsace and Lorraine regions welcome over 150,000 viewers to various processions. A city such as Nancy in Lorraine even capitalizes on the event to launch a big tourism campaign. The city already welcomes 150,000 viewers during the festivities, and this year, it invited Japanese media and travel agents to promote the event abroad. On the domestic front, Nancy spent €130,000 on a campaign at the Paris Eastern rail station in the Paris underground and on high-speed trains to highlight the event. According to a 2009 study from Meurthe et Moselle District (where Nancy is located), 5% of all visitors for the Saint Nicholas festivities came by TGV, and 30% originate from Paris and its surroundings.

Last weekend, some 25,000 people followed the legend of Saint Nicholas displayed on the facades of the Nancy opera house and admired festive processions cumulating into a giant fireworks display. According to Gérard Rongeot, Head of Nancy Office of Tourism, speaking to local newspaper Républicain Lorrain, “Saint Nicholas celebration is now more than just a procession. It is a two-day feast, which is slowly turning into the launching event for a month-long celebration until Christmas.” Nancy now works with the neighboring city of Metz to launch tourism packages able to attract visitors during December.

At the same time, Nancy, with the neighboring city of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, registered "Saint-Nicolas" as a trade mark a year ago. The legendary bishop was officially recorded in July 2009 at France Institut National de la Propriété Intellectuelle (Inpi-National Institute for Intellectual Property) under four sub-brands: Saint-Nicolas, Marché de Saint-Nicolas (market), Fêtes de Saint-Nicolas, and La Fête de la Saint-Nicolas (celebration).

Politicians in the neighboring Alsace region and also the political opposition in Nancy were quick to denounce a brand abuse. Some spoke about a dangerous trend to commercialize any event for the sake of money. In Alsace, Eric Straumann, an MP from the city of Colmar, went to the Regional Court in October to look at legal ways to cancel the registration.

Explaining his move to local newspapers, les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, the Colmar MP, mentioned that many villages in Alsace also organize their own Saint Nicholas festivities, showing that this is not an exclusive Lorraine event. In Lorraine, politicians play down the issue and want to be reassuring. Both the cities of Nancy and Saint-Nicolas-de-Port explained that names have been registered to avoid a complete commercialization of the event. In no way are the other villages in Lorraine or Alsace banned from having their own Saint Nicholas festivities. Luc Binsinger, Mayor of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, hosted a pres conference to diffuse the message. “We really want to protect the tradition against abuse,” he explained. Meanwhile, these regional polemics cast a shadow over a traditional Christmas time where peace and happiness are supposed to prevail.

Polemics and a lack of understanding around Saint Nicholas figure

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