St. Nicholas

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Saint NICOLAS

This popular French song, the Légende de Saint Nicolas, dates back to the 16th century and is still sung by French children today. It tells the rather gruesome story of St. Nicholas rescuing three children from an evil butcher. The story, which was originally of three young men—traveling scholars, is told in France of three young children (see illustrations from 1935). Here on this page, they are shown as older children by 19th century artist E. de Liphart. Music and an English text, freely translated by poet James Henry Dixon, follow the original French.


Cover
Saint NICOLAS
E. de Liphart, illustrator
Maison Quantin, Paris ca 1880
St Nicholas Center Collection
Children approach butcher's

They came to the butcher's one evening 
 
St Nicolas at table

Butcher, butcher, do not flee. 
 
Rise up, children

Then the Saint extended his fingers 
 
Music to traditional French song
 
Click for printable PDF

Saint NICOLAS (La Légende de Saint Nicolas)

    Ils étaient trois petits enfants
    Qui s'en allaient glaner aux champs—
    S'en vinr'nt un soir chez un boucher:
    "Boucher, voudrais-tu nous coucher?"—
    Entrez, entrez, petits enfants,
    Il y'a d'la place assurément! . . .

Ils n'étaient pas sitôt entrés
Que le boucher les a tués,
Les a coupés en p'tits morceaux,
Mis au saloir comme pourceaux.

    Ils étaient, etc.

Saint Nicolas, au bout d'sept ans,
Vint à passer dedans ce champ,
Alla frapper chez le boucher:
"Boucher, voudrais-tu me loger?"

    Ils étaient, etc.

— Entrez, entrez, saint Nicolas,
Il y'a d'la place, il n'en manq'pas."
Il n'était pas sitôt entré
Qu'il a demandé à souper.

    Ils étaient, etc.

"Du p'tit salé je veux avoir
Qu'il y a sept ans qu'est dans l'saloir."
Quand le boucher entendit ça,
Hors de la porte il s'enfuya.

    Ils étaient, etc.

"Boucher, boucher, ne t'enfuis pas;
Repens-toi, Dieu t'pardonnera."
Saint Nicolas alla s'asseoir
Dessus le bord de ce saloir.

    Ils étaient, etc.

"Petits enfants qui dormez là,
Je suis le grand saint Nicolas."
Et le saint étendit trois doigts.
Les p'tits se lèvent tous les trois.

    Ils étaient, etc.


The Legend of Saint Nicholas
freely translated from the French

Three little children sought the plain
Gleaners of the golden grain.
They lingered past the angel-song,
And dewy shadows swept along.

'Mid the silence of the wood
The butcher's lonely cottage stood,
"Butcher! lodge us for the night,
Lodge us till the morning light."
"Enter in, ye children small,
I can find a place for all."

The butcher seized a knife straitway,
And did the little creatures slay.
He put them in a tub of brine,
In pieces small as they were swine.

St. Nicholas, at seven years end,
His way did to the forest wend.
He sought the butcher's cottage drear:
"Butcher! I would rest me here!"

"Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
You are welcome, St. Nicholas!
Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
There's place for you the night to pass."
Scarce had the Saint his entrance made,
He would the supper board was laid.

"Will you have of ham a slice?"
"I will not, for it is not nice!"
"Of this veal you'll take a bit?"
"No! I do not relish it."

"Give me of the little swine,
For seven long years have laid in brine!"
The butcher caught the words he said,
And forthwith from the portal fled.

"Butcher! butcher! do not flee,
Repent and God will pardon thee!"

St. Nicholas the tub drew near,
And lo! he placed three fingers there.
The first one said, "I sweetly rest!"
The second said, "I too am blest!"
The third replied, "Tis well with me,
In Paradise I seem to be!"


Freely translated from the French by English poet James Henry Dixon (1803–1876), Centro Studi Nicolaiani, Bari, Itlay, 1983. Used by permission.


A 17th century version of this song

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