In his classic work, „Poetry und Truth“, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frankfurt’s most famous native son, wrote: „In a city like Frankfurt you find yourself in a magnificent location; travellers and strangers are continually passing though, pointing to far-off destinations in every direction and stirring the desire to travel.&
Nowhere is this feeling of being at the „crossroads“ more acutely felt than on Frankfurt’s historic market square, the Römerberg, where the Alte Nikolaikirche is located. Each day thousands of tourists and commuters, locals and street-musicians enjoy the international flair of the place referred to in local dialect as the „Gut Stubb“.
Known as „St. Nikolai“ up until the 20th century, the early-gothic church located here is named after Nikolaus, a 4th century bishop who lived in what is today the country of Turkey. Because he is considered the patron saint of seafarers, he was chosen in part to protect our church against the flooding of the nearby Main River. In Germany, Nikolaus traditionally comes on December 6th, his feast day, bringing presents to children and encouraging gift-giving – something of a harbinger of Christ’s coming on December 25th. Several sandstone reliefs on the outside walls of the church depict Nikolaus among the poor and sick (for whom he is also the patron saint), offering bread and comfort to „the least of these.“
Many countries celebrate the kind, generous spirit of Nikolaus, of whom countless legends and miracles are told (many are re-tellings of the miracle stories from the life of Christ). When the Dutch founded the American colony of New Netherlands in 1613, they brought with them their „Sinterklaas“ tradition. After the English took over the colony in 1664, renaming it New York, the image of Sinterklaas merged with England’s roly-poly Father Christmas. Eventually Santa Claus (a direct derivation of „Sinterklaas“) and gift-giving became one with Christmas in the New World.