We wish all our European friends, and particularly those of Dutch heritage, (including our very own blog writers Jane and Caroline, and their mother, Elisabeth), a very happy celebration of Sinterklaas!
Sinterklaas (also called Saint Nicolas) is a very old tradition in Dutch-speaking Europe (The Netherlands and Flanders), and is also well known in the former Dutch colonies, such as Portugal and Spain.
It is celebrated in The Netherlands on either the evening of the 5th of December, the eve of the day Saint Nicholas died, or on the following day, 6 December (mostly in Belgium).
The legend is that St. Nicholas of Myra (in modern day Turkey) gave a poor father money in order to prevent his daughters from being taken into slavery, as the father did not have the funds for his daughters' dowries. It is said that Nicholas threw the money through the family's window, which landed in their shoes, which were drying near their fireplace.1
Thereafter, Nicholas was revered for his generosity and this is the basis of the Feast Day. In the 11th century, Christian nuns in Belgium and France initiated the practice of giving the poor gifts in the name of Saint Nicholas. This custom spread to Germany and Holland, thus further spreading the Feast of Saint Nicholas and its associated customs.1
The tradition is that Sinterklaas arrives from Spain in a boat and parades through the town on a white horse that can walk across rooftops. To this day, this scene is recreated, and crowds gather to watch his boat arrival and the parade through the streets, lined with awe-inspired children and parents.
The traditions of how Sinterklaas is celebrated today varies throughout Europe. But in many places, in line with the original legend, little children put their shoes by the chimney, or the window or front door, perhaps with some carrots for Saint Nicholas’s white horse, and sing a song just before going to sleep. Along with his friend and helper, Sinterklaas comes and throws sweets inside the door to land in the shoes, along with a small present such as chocolate letters of the alphabet, gingernuts and spiced biscuits, called Pepernoot or Peppernut.
Today, the Feast of Sinterklaas is synonymous with goodwill, gift-giving and generosity to all people.
You might like to watch the following short video where the traditions and food of Sinterklaas today are examined by some children....
And finally, whilst Saint Nicholas is the basis for the mythical figure of Santa Claus around the world today, it is important to note that Sinterklaas has nothing to do with Christmas! However, Christmas is also celebrated in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium 1....
- With thanks to Wikipedia