Happy Saint Nicholas Day, everyone! Yes, I know this isn’t something you typically wish anyone outside of certain parts of Northern or Eastern Europe and specific parts of the US but I thought it would be a great time to unveil that timely portrait of the Imperial family behaving just like anybody else would: taking it easy in their PJs.
Painted in 1962 by the Archduchess Maria Christina, she depicts the family in a small drawing room, the kind typical of any “good middle class family.” In traditional “dad form,” the Emperor is reading the paper in his robe, nightcap and slippers in front of a roaring fire. To his left, in a simple blue dress, the Empress Marie Teresa is serving him tea or hot cocoa. Meanwhile, the young archdukes and archduchesses are discovering what gifts Saint Nicholas has left in the shoes they placed empty by the window the night before.
Maximilian, in front of Maria Teresa’s skirts, plays with a new toy cavalryman and indulges in some heart-shaped cookies. Popping up from behind her mother’s skirt, brandishing her new doll, is Marie Antoinette aged 7. To their left, Maria Christina has painted herself into the portrait as well, not to mention depicting her younger brother Archduke Ferdinand as the naughty one. He is crying because he has only found birch rods in his shoe…the Austrian equivalent to a lump of coal in the 18th century!
Saint Nicholas day is still celebrated in Austria (and many other parts of the world) today. In Austria, gifts are received on December 6th instead of the 25th or January 6 (like in Spain). The night of the 5th or the 6th, children leave their shoes either on the windowsill or outside their door. The next morning the kiddies typically find apples, oranges, nuts, sweets and small toys. (Naturally, all children are good.) Though it may sound a bit foreign, it’s actually closer to home than you think.
I was born in Milwaukee, WI, lived there until I was 5 and I do remember celebrating Saint Nicholas day there…it was the only region of the country where I remember it being celebrated. (I’ve also lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, Foxborough, MA and in the “commuter” section of New Jersey…all before the age of 10.) It’s speculated that these traditions are carried over from Germanic or Dutch customs. There are plenty of Milwaukee citizens of Germanic and Scandinavian heritage…not to mention my mom being both Scandinavian and Dutch.
As children we hung our stockings on the sill of a beautiful stained glass window that really had no business being in our bungalow on the South side of Milwaukee. We didn’t hang the stocking there out of Germanic tradition, my parents’ first house didn’t have a fireplace. The night of the 5th, we’d put our letters to Santa inside our stockings, rather than mailing them and wasting the stamp like the rest of the suckers in the country! (Kidding!) According to [Milwaukee] lore, Saint Nicholas comes by your home (through the window in our case), taking your letters to deliver to Santa and leaving small gifts behind instead.
According to tradition, a lump of coal was a warning that you had three weeks left to hurry up and get your act together if you wanted Santa to leave gifts under the tree. (Again, by sliding them through the window…gee, we’d buy anything at ages 4, 2 and 1 respectively.) I was delighted to learn today that this tradition was not just a figment of my hyperactive imagination disguised as a memory, that it’s still going strong in Milwaukee today!
I still remember what we received in our stocking that last year in Milwaukee. Ironically, our stocking were stuffed with slippers…Sesame Street characters to be exact. I got Big Birds, Matt got Oscar the Grouches and Danny got Cookie Monsters. (Fitting ‘cos to this day he eats EVERYTHING he sees, although his eyes don’t roll around in 360s like Cookie’s do.)
Alas, I regret there are no more paintings of the Imperial family taking it easy or celebrating a religious holiday, so I thought I’d show off this neat little mosaic ap a friend of mine showed me. Here’s the above picture:
So yes, I promised a friend that I’ve known since 7th grade that I’d bump his new ap for him. I think it’s pretty nifty. This is an unpaid endorsement. Make me the wordpress pariah if you like but I keep my promises.
When I decided to play around with La reine en gaulle, I made the number of pictures less than in the St. Nicklaus Day pic. It’s not as detailed. (Wow, you can even see the Westminster Halo Tiara in the zoom on the right. Katherine Howard, a scene from Arrested Development…) It’s fun to slide the settings around and see what works for paintings vs. photos. Black & white vs color. If it looks like something you’d enjoy check it out:
my mosaic is available on iTunes.
Hey, my first celebrity endorsement!
for more Christmas fun: