It’s an early Sunday morning. The first frost on the fields slowly disappears under a clear, cold sun. Geese huddle together. Enthousiastic church bells try to lure the last of the faithful to the service. In the forest, two woodpeckers signal each other from a distance. The last of the yellowing leaves hold on to the branches. It’s a very different atmosphere from what I remember from my childhood. The evening fell quicker then, maybe because there was less light and less business in the evenings, maybe because I was a child. The headlights of my bicycle beamed through the mist and the dynamo made a zooming noise. But the reception of St. Nicolas hasn’t changed. With my school class behind the band to the big hall in our village, where a few children, the very good or the very naughty were seen by St. Nicolas. I was never one of them, always with the majority in the back. Not that I minded, I wasn’t looking for attention. St. Nicolas was still a severe albeit just person and Pete was still the helper with the rod and the sack. I was more afraid of the severity of Nicolas than of Pete’s rod. And then, in fairy tales it is always the younger brother, the unnoticed and the servant that turns out to be the real heroe. At the end I would walk with a brown paper bag in which there were an orange, some ‘pepernoten’ and a marzipan frog to my aunts’ house where the adults were watching the first black and white tv set. The rope that I had dangerously slung across the road in front of our house in my youthful ignorance however did make into the Saint’s red book. In a house call he made I had to confess and promise never to repeat this. I then got a handful of pepernoten from Pete. Yes, Saint Nicolas was very Catholic in those days; do penance and receive a reward.
People now want change, I hear and see. People long for change and safety in an uncertain world, a feeling of home. For some that is going back to their childhood, for others it’s a place in society. I have no longing for the days of my childhood. My longing is for belonging and love in the world of today.
Yet I find beauty in the way people project their longing for and the safety of home on Pete. Not on Nicolas the Saint, but on Pete the helper. As in the fairy tales it’s the helper that becomes the symbol of everybody’s hero. An encouraging thought.