you will be surprised that in Holland we do not celebrate Santa Claus
(Sinterklaas) on 26th December, but on the evening of 5 December, which
is the eve of the day the real Sinterklaas died. Yes folks, there
really was a Sinterklaas.
He was born in 271 A.D. and died on Dec. 6th 342
or 343 in the town of Myra in Asia Minor. His tomb was only quite recently
dug up by archaeologists.
came from rather a wealthy family and was brought up a Christian. When
his parents died in an epidemic, he gave away all his wealth to the
poor and entered the priesthood. Much later he became the Archbishop
of Myra (that's why you can see pictures of our Sinterklaas dressed
in the robes and with the mitre of an Archbishop and not in the usual
Santa Claus way) . Myra was not too far from his home town and from
there tales about his good deeds and saintly ways spread across the
After he died fact and myth mingled and so the
legend of Sinterklaas was born. St.Nicholas became the patron Saint
of sailors, merchants and especially children.
When Myra fell to the Mohammedans, sailors carried
the bones of their patron to Bari, a Southern Italian town and there
they built a mausoleum over his grave which then became the Centre of
the St. Nicholas worship.
From Bari the legend of Sinterklaas spread along
the coast to the Atlantic and the North Sea. In the 12th and 13th Century
Holland built 23 St Nicholas Churches. Amsterdam and several other European
towns adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint and Rome decreed that
December 6th, the anniversary of his death, be his official Calendar
St. Nicholas influence became especially strong in the Low Countries
where traditionally and geographically trade represented a great part
of the national income. Somehow Sinterklaas became more and more known
as the benefactor of children. In the 14th century choir boys of the
St. Nicholas Churches were given money and the day off on December 6th.
Then, a little later, the monk teachers in convent schools would disguise
themselves as Sinterklaas and either punish or reward the pupils as
the case might be. From that the Sinterklaas saga most likely spread
to the homes of the pupils and then developed over the years into the
full tradition it is today.
By the 17th Century Sinterklaas Day was firmly
established and at this time where the Dutch settled in The New World,
they took this custom with them. Somehow later Sinterklaas and Father
Christmas, who was introduced by the British settlers, merged into Santa
Claus who lives at the North Pole and drives a sleigh with reindeer.
Holland Sinterklaas nowadays arrives around the middle of November in
Amsterdam by means of a Steamship which comes from "Spain" , where he
purportedly lives. He is accompanied by his Moorish helper, Zwarte Piet.
(Black Pete), who is dressed in an outfit in a
style from the Middle Ages: knee pants, jacket with puffed sleeves and
a beret with a long feather trailing from it.
Sinterklaas rides on a white horse down the gangplank,
holding his golden crosierin
his hand. Piet carries a birch rod and a sack with goodies.
(Usually, there are about 20 Piets present at
this occasion, but traditionally there is only supposed to be one Piet).
Sinterklaas and the Piets are received by the
Mayor of Amsterdam and a delegation of citizens, all this duly recorded
on television and watched by the entire nation.
The Piets go through a lot of antics: they threaten
children and grown-ups with the birch rod and throw the sweets and
"pepernoten" into the crowd.
following weeks Sinterklaas and Piet are really busy;they appear on
television, they visit schools, they ride across the rooftops to listen
to the children to see if they are behaving well and they leave small
gifts in the shoes the children set out near the fire places with some
hay or a carrot for the horse.
families have Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet visit their house on the evening
of December 5th. Piet carries his famous birch rod and a sack full of
gifts and Sinterklaas carries a big book in which the names of the children
and grown- ups are noted who live in that house. This book has remarks
after each name of what good and what bad things the child or grown-up
did during the year. Sinterklaas will read the notes aloud and the person
whose name is called has to step up to Sinterklaas and answer questions.
For example, Sinterklaas might say: "I see here that you don't like
to take a bath and brush your teeth. Piet, do you think that Jan should
get a spanking with the birch rod , or should we let it pass if he promises
to change this in the future ?".
gifts have to be wrapped in a special way and have to be accompanied
by a poem which usually makes fun of the person for whom these gifts
are intended. The person has to read this poem aloud for everyone
to hear. Sometimes the receiver of the gift is made to do things ,such
as sing a song.
On Sinterklaas Day special sweets and food are served: chocolate letters
are given which represent the initials of the receiver. Boterletters
: letters baked with flaky pastry wrapped around marzipan centres.
Speculaaspoppen : gingerbread people and borstplaat.