Did you know that the night of December 5th is one of the most important throughout the year for Dutch children?
Yes, that’s right, this is the time when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents!
Maybe you are familiar with Santa Claus but not with St.Nicolas. However, St. Nicolas is actually Santa’s original ancestor. He was a 3rd-century bishop who was famous for his generosity and good deeds. Since his death, stories about his miracles started to spread around Western Europe. He became known in history as a patron saint for sailors and children. Despite him being a Catholic saint, Dutch people of all ages and beliefs celebrate him, without any real religious connotations. The feast of St. Nicholas has been celebrated for at least 700 years in the Netherlands. It is popular also in Belgium and Germany where it is celebrated on December 6th.
How do we celebrate it?
In mid-November St. Nicholas and his helpers – Pieten, arrive in the Netherlands by boat from their home in Spain. They bring presents and special treats for the children that behaved well during the year. Wearing traditional red bishop’s robe, Sinterklaas rides into towns and villages on a white horse. He rides across rooftops at night, listening through chimneys for good children. On the night that Sinterklaas arrives at their town, children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or a windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs. They believe that if they leave hay or carrots in their shoes for his horse, some sweets or small presents will be left in return.
Sinterklaasavond, the night of December 5th, is usually celebrated with family and friends. The whole feast is about giving. The fun is in trying to surprise people with a small gift accompanied by jokes and funny poems about the gift’s recipient. Usually, treasure hunt games are played with riddles giving clues to children on how to find their present.
Food is, of course, a very important part of the celebration. Traditional recipes are speculaas (spiced cookies), kruidnoten (mini spiced cookies, also called ginger nuts), pepernoten (mini ginger biscuits),taai-taai (chewy aniseed biscuits), almond filled pasteries, chocolate letters – “banketletter”, and duivekater (a festive sweet bread). Mulled wine, called bischopswijn, is also enjoyed.
We hope that all of you will have many beautiful moments during the December festive season!