An Unlikely Connection Between Vaillancourt and Christmas

Who Was The First Vaillancourt In North America?

Vaillancourt Folk Art has reached its 40th year, prompting a moment of reflection for me. While I’ve covered the company’s history in my book, “It Is Hard To Tell When A Tradition Begins,” I feel compelled to share some personal observations and the unlikely connection between my lineage and Christmas.

A scan of the baptism record of Robert Vaillancourt— 3 Oct 1644 in St-Nicolas-d’Aliermont, Dieppe, dioc of Rouen, Normandy, France.

Family history and genealogy have become increasingly popular pursuits, with platforms like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and esteemed organizations like the New England Historic Genealogy Society facilitating deep dives into one’s ancestry. Though my wife, Judi, takes this endeavor more seriously, I’ve gleaned a wealth of knowledge from my father’s side of the family. Through these efforts, I traced my ancestry back twelve generations to Robert Vaillancourt, who arrived in lle d’Orleans (a small town outside of Quebec, Canada) in 1653.

Given that Vaillancourt Folk Art has global reach, I’ve received genealogical records from five other Vaillancourts across the U.S., all tracing their lineage back to the same Robert Vaillancourt born in 1644. It’s widely accepted, corroborated by multiple sources, that he was the first Vaillancourt to settle in the New World. A visit to the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone in Quebec further affirmed our familial connection, where we paid respects at the grave of Robert Vaillancourt and his wife, Jacquelin Pepin, on the Isle of St. Oleon. My grandparents, devout Catholics who spoke both French and English, raised nine children, a feat mirrored by my grandfather’s brother in the neighboring town. With a family boasting 18 children, I assumed ours was sizable, yet I scarcely know my 32 first cousins. Such is the reality of a seemingly large family.

Further research revealed that Robert Vaillancourt migrated from Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont, a small town in Normandy, France. This discovery ignited our journey into the intertwined realms of Vaillancourts and Christmas.

The Resurrection

My wife and I have amassed over 3,000 chocolate moulds dating from the late 1800s to 1945, crafted in Germany for the European market. These moulds, each representing Christmas figures from various cultures, often delve into historical narratives and legends. From Scandinavian tomte riding pigs to depictions of Krampus and Saint Nicholas, these moulds encapsulate a rich tapestry of Christmas lore. Among them, we discovered moulds depicting Saint Nicholas with three children in a tub, as well as St. Nick riding a flying horse over rooftops—a far cry from today’s holiday imagery.

Judi delved into the origins of these moulds, and unearthed tales dating back to the 1100s through the 1700s, which often incorporated punitive figures alongside gift-giving ones—a testament to the darker side of holiday folklore. One such story, featuring Saint Nicholas and the three children in a tub, initially struck us as too grim to be true. However, a chance encounter with a 13th-century oil painting in Bruges’s Groeningemuseum validated the authenticity of this unsettling legend of resurrection. Throughout our life, touring medieval churches adorned with nativities and images of Saint Nicholas, the true essence of Christmas—celebrating the birth of Christ—the stories became palpable.

Our Journey To Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont

Rue Vaillancourt, Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont, France.

Over the years, we’ve hosted over 150 collectors on Viking River Cruises to Christkindlmarkets. Our 2023 journey was different, opting for a cruise from Paris to Normandy, stopping at Rouen—just an hour’s drive from Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont. Anticipating our visit, I arranged for a cab and tour guide a year in advance so that we could take a journey to where the Vaillancourts began.

En route to the quaint village of Saint-Nicolas-d’Aliermont we found ourselves on Rue De Vaillancourt as we reached our destination: Église Saint-Nicolas, the 13th-century church where Robert Vaillancourt was baptized in 1644, witnessing firsthand the legacy of my ancestors in the 1500s and 1600s.

Christmas And Vaillancourt Go Hand-in-Hand

A stained glass window depicting Saint Nicholas and the three children we arrived at the 12th-century church where Robert Vaillancourt was baptized in 1644.

We toured the church, taking in the reality of these being the same stones that my ancestor would have seen and touched. Looking around, we stumbled upon a simple, yet profound, nativity scene and then right there in plain sight, a stained glass window depicting Saint Nicholas and the three children in a tub. Our guide, Agnes, recounted singing the song of Saint Nicholas and the three children on Christmas Eve as a child, reminding us that these ancient tales persist in diverse communities worldwide.

In this village, where my family’s roots run deep, Christmas isn’t merely a holiday; it’s woven into the fabric of the community. After 40 years of immersing ourselves in the spirit of Christmas, encountering our direct ties to its origins and our familial past felt like destiny fulfilled. Truly, kismet at its finest.

The Tradition of Song

Following up from our visit, Agnes reached out via email to give us the lyrics of the song of St. Nicholas and the three children that she would sing as a child:

The “Saint Nicholas with Three Children in a Tub” VFA Nr. 140, painted in 1986 shown with the original 1800s metal chocolate mould.

Ils étaient trois petits enfants / There were three children
Qui s’en allaient glaner aux champs / they went gleaning in the field
Tant sont allés tant sont venus / but they took so much time
Que par le soir se sont perdus / by sunset they got lost
S’en vont au soir chez un boucher. / Here is a butcher where they knock
“Boucher, voudrais-tu nous loger ?” / “Butcher, would you be kind and welcome us tonight?”
“Entrez, entrez, petits enfants, / “Come inside children
Il y a de la place assurément” / I’ve got so much room”

Ils n’étaient pas sitôt entrés, / As soon as they entered the house
Que le boucher les a tués, / The butcher killed them
Les a coupés en petits morceaux, / chopped them 
Mis au saloir comme pourceaux. / and put them in salting tub, just like hogs.

Saint Nicolas au bout d’sept ans, / seven years later, 
vint dans ce champ. / Saint Nicolas came by.
Il s’en alla chez le boucher : / He went to the butcher
« Boucher, voudrais-tu me loger ? » / “Butcher, would you be kind and welcome me tonight?”

« Entrez, entrez, saint Nicolas, / “Come inside Saint-Nicolas
Il y a d’la place, il n’en manque pas. » / I’ve got so much room”
Il n’était pas sitôt entré, / As soon as he entered the house
Qu’il a demandé à souper. / he asked for supper.

“ Voulez-vous un morceau d’jambon ?” / “Would some ham please you ?”
“Je n’en veux pas, il n’est pas bon.” / “No thanks, it’s not tasty”
“Voulez vous un morceau de veau ?” / “A piece of veal ?”
“Je n’en veux pas, il n’est pas beau ! / “No thanks, it doesn’t look good
Du p’tit salé je veux avoir, / I want what you put
Qu’il y a sept ans qu’est dans l’saloir.” / seven years ago in you salting bath”.
Quand le boucher entendit cela, / When the butcher heard this
Hors de sa porte il s’enfuya. / he ran away.

Saint Nicolas posa trois doigts / Saint- Nicolas then rose three fingers
Dessus le bord de ce saloir : / above the salting bath
Les petits se levèrent tous les trois / and the children rose 
Le premier dit: « J’ai bien dormi ! » / the first one said “I slept so well”
Le second dit: « Et moi aussi ! » / the second said : “I too”
Et le troisième répondit : / the third added
« Je croyais être en paradis ! » / “I thought I was in paradise”.

Submitted by Agnes via email.

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