St. Nicholas in Trouble
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
SANKT NIKOLAUS IN NOT began its long run in 1924, in the collection of stories, Het keersken in de lanteern (The Candle in the Lantern). In 1926 it was published as a picture book with original illustrations by Else Wenz-Viëtor. These illustrations are still in-print as a small German paperback.
This story tells of the poor little girl, Cecilia, who was so excited she could not sleep this St. Nicholas Eve. She believed, even though the family was so poor they had no soap for washing, that the wonderful chocolate ship Congo from the window of the sweet shop, would be her gift from St. Nicholas.
Unhappy Trinchen Mutser, who owned the sweet shop, wished she had never bought the amazing chocolate ship—everyone had come in to “ooh” and “ah” over it, but none would pay the high price. Not even the doctor’s wife.
St. Nicholas and his servant Rupert (Knecht Ruprecht) came down out of the sky on a moonbeam. Making their appointed rounds, they leave delicious smelling sweets and surprises for all the children. Finished at last; everything given away.
Alas, nothing was left for Cecilia, whom St. Nicholas called, “the best child in the whole world!”
And so the story of the only four in the town who are not sleeping—a poet, the night watchman, the shopkeeper, and little Cecilia—tells how St. Nicholas and Rupert are able to solve this terrible dilemna. St. Nicholas and Rupert have no more money, for Rupert has used everything from the church poor boxes to supply children’s treats. Still, eventually, Trinchen Mutser gives up the treasured ship showing that St. Nicholas, in one way or another, causes hearts to soften, or, at the very least, to recognize another’s good will.
As for Cecilia, she has a grand adventure with St. Nicholas, but never does understand how the beautiful chocolate ship, Congo, comes to sit in all its perfect splendor among the ashes of her hearth.
The three woodcuts on the upper right are by Felix Timmermans himself; they have illustrated many editions of his Sankt Nikolaus.
The first English version, Saint Nicholas in Trouble, probably came out in 1932, though the Harper & Brothers book is undated. It was translated from German by Amy Flashner and had the original Else Wenz-Viëtor illustrations. There were five full-page, full-color pictures, along with other illustrations.
Over the years this story has continued to invite fresh interpretations—sometimes with sumptuous illustrations as the English and German editions above demonstrate.
In 1998 the British Society of Wood Engravers produced a specialty edition with the English title, Saint Nicholas in Distress. This lovely book features John Lawrence’s distinctive blue engravings printed on mould-made paper.
Edition Tintenfass brought out two new 2017 editions in two different Belgian regional native languages: Walloon and Picard. Walloon is the historic language of southern Belgium; it was the traditional language in most of the areas that are now French-speaking. Picard was spoken in what is now Picardy in France and extended into what is the western part of Wallonia.
FELIX TIMMERMANS (1886–1947) was the 13th child in a family of 14. He was born and lived in the small Flanders city of Lier, a bit south of Antwerp. Lier has produced a number of artists, but Felix “Fe” Timmermans is by far the best-known.He received numerous literary awards and became a legend in his own time. His 1916 novel Pallieter, told of the joyous fellow Pallieter, who represented the good and happy Flemish life. The popular and prolific writer’s work included biographies of St. Francis of Assisi and painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
ELSE WENZ-VIËTOR (1882-1973) illustrated the first picture book edition and the book is still available with these illustrations. As one of the most productive and well-known illustrators in the 1920s and 1930s, she illustrated more than one hundred picture books. Many are now collectors’ items.