In Europe, St. Nicholas comes before Santa Claus

Who is the man with a long white beard in December?

In many countries, there are two answers to that question.

Santa Claus delivers gifts at Christmas on Dec. 25.

Before that, people in many countries in Europe — from Belgium to Russia — celebrate St. Nicholas Day. It’s Dec. 6 in some western European countries, such as Belgium and Germany, and Dec. 19 in Eastern European countries, like Ukraine.

Many people in those countries celebrate both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas.

Unlike Santa, St. Nicholas was a real person born in the third century in what’s now Turkey. He was a bishop who became a Christian saint in the late 10th century.

In Germany, St. Nicholas Day isn’t a public holiday, but it’s celebrated widely with cheer. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, or Nikolaustag, which is tonight (Dec. 5), children in Germany put out their boots or hang stockings outside their door. On the morning of Dec. 6, children (who have been good) wake to find their boots or stockings filled with chocolate, cookies, nuts or even small gifts like a scarf.

German shops sell candy like these of St. Nicholas chocolates in Berlin. (Sheryl Jean)

St. Nicholas Day has a dark side. A folkloric helper called Knecht Ruprecht in Germany or Krampus in some Central European countries often accompanies St. Nicholas to punish naughty children.

The half-goat, half-demon creature usually is portrayed as dark and hairy with horns, cloven hooves and a long, pointed tongue.  You can see why this pagan mythological figure inspired a yuletide horror movie called “Krampus” in 2015.

In comparison, St. Nicholas often is portrayed as an elderly, benevolent soul in Western Europe, with a long, white beard, wearing a bishop’s mitre (a tall headdress) and holding a hooked staff.

Statue of St. Nicholas
This statue of St. Nicholas is how he often is portrayed in Western Europe. (dassel via Pixabay)

Note: The featured photo at top is by Ben Kerckx via Pixabay.

Share the road: More people will travel for July 4 holiday

What’s more classic than a road trip for the July 4 holiday? This year, you can expect to have a lot more company.

You’ll be sharing the road — and air space and rails and waterways — with a record number of travelers this year.

AAA July 4, 2017, infographic
AAA July 4, 2017, travel forecast infographic

 

Over 44 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home around the coming holiday, up 3 percent from last year, according to AAA.

Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing, said strong employment combined with rising incomes “bode well” for summer travel, especially the July 4 holiday. And some travel costs, such as gas prices and airfares, are down from a year ago, adding incentive to travel.

Of people traveling for the holiday, 85 percent will drive to their destination, about 8 percent will fly and 7 percent will take other transportation modes, such as trains, buses and cruises.

Here are some reasons why are more people traveling:

Economy: The economy is growing at a good enough clip for the Federal Reserve last week to raise a key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 percent.

Employment: People are working and feel more stable. While U.S. employment growth has slowed slightly in May, nearly 4.6 million jobs have been added over the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nation’s unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in May.

Income: Salaries are starting to rise. The average full-time worker earned $22 an hour in May, up 2.4 percent from $21.48 a year earlier, according to BLS data.

Gas: The average gas price nationwide costs $2.28, 4 cents less than a year ago. Drivers, however, may see prices increase closer to the holiday weekend.

Airfare: AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows that average airfares for the top 40 U.S. flights are 10 percent lower this year, with an average round trip ticket costing $186.

Car rental: The average daily car rental rate is $65, 14 percent less than last year.

Where are most people going? Orlando, Fla., remains the No. 1 destination for summer travel AAA says. That’s followed by (in order): Vancouver, Canada; Cancun, Mexico; Seattle; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.