|Sinterklaas Shopping - Food|
|Sinterklaas Shopping Gift Packs|
|Sinterklaas in History|
|Sinterklaas Comes To North America|
|Children Sinterklaas / Christmas Gallery|
|Memories of Sinterklaas|
|Pictures of Sinterklaas|
|Sinterklaas Colouring Activities|
Did you know that it was Dutch Immigrants who brought the tradition of Santa Claus to the rest of the world? That's right! It all started waaaay back in the 4th Century when a Bishop in Turkey named St. Nicholas became widely known for his good deed with poor children in Europe. His feast day became known as the Celebration of Sinterklaas and was held on December 6. St. Nicholas is also known as the patron saint of Amsterdam. Many different versions of the story of Saint Nicholas are told but there are some common characters in each one. First is Saint Nick's companion Zwarte Piet. Some believe that Zwarte Piet was a black slave. This is not the case. Zwarte Piet is said to be a Turkish orphan that traveled as St. Nicholas' helper. His darker Turkish features must have seemed black to the fairer 4th Century Dutch. The second common character is Schimmel, St. Nicholas' fine white horse.
St. Nicholas is pictured in medieval and renaissance paintings as a tall, dignified man dressed in red vestments carrying a Bishop's golden crook. Zwarte Piet is depicted in garish Turkish garb with bright red lips and a gold earring. The legend describes St. Nicholas and Zwarte Piet traveling from their home in Spain across Europe helping the poor and bring food to children. Through the ages, the story of St. Nicholas astride his white horse with this helper Zwarte Piet grew into a tradition to celebrate the feast day on December 6th. St. Nicholas travels to Holland on a steam ship from Spain. He would leave in mid November and arrive on December 5th. Just in time to place small gifts and treats like pepernoten, chocolate initials, marzipan figures and fruit.In the past, St. Nicholas carried a Birch switch used to punish children who were naughty and Zwarte Piet was said to put bad children in his sack or would leave them a lump of coal in their shoes instead of treats. Today, St. Nicholas is portrayed as a more gentle figure and Zwarte Piet is a jokester.
The tradition of St. Nicholas came to North America with Netherlands Protestant Settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York. At that time, the gift giving at the celebration of St. Nicholas' feast day was separate from the celebration of Christmas on December 25. It wasn't until the publication of "twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clark Moore that Santa Claus as a "jolly old elf" with reindeer was born. The Santa Claus legend has helpers who are elves and also know "whose naughty and nice".
Today children in Holland still look forward to the arrival of St. Nicholas. Children are told that St. Nicholas is very busy and has many helpers who dress like him and Zwarte Piet so that no child is left out. Children place straw or carrots in their shoes for Schimmel and St. Nicholas replaces these with gifts and treats. Adults will also exchange gifts and usually attach a funny poem or verse. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is celebrated with family gatherings and meals rather than gifts. Although some Dutch people will exchange gifts at that time as well. Another part of the fun is how presents are hidden or disguised. Recipients often have to go on a teasure hunt all over the house, aided by hints, to look for them.
They must be prepared to dig their gifts out of the potato bin, to find them in a jello pudding, in a glove filled with wet sand, in some crazy dummy or doll. Working hard for your presents and working even harder to think up other peoples' presents and get them ready is what the fun is all about.
In other countries where there are people of Dutch heritage, the tradition of Sinterklaas lives on. In our town, St. Nicholas comes to visit with Zwarte Piet and children sit on his knee and are asked if they have been good. Zwarte Piet always tries to put one of the children in his sack, but always lets them wiggle out again. Treats of pepernoten or ginger snaps, chocolate and candy are given to each child. In many homes that tradition of exchanging chocolate initials of the first letter of each persons name is continued. And we look forward to all the treats available during Sinterklaas time like almond rings (rich pastry wrapped around almond filling) and marzipan (almond confectionary molded into fun shapes). This year, why don't you celebrate Sinterklaas with us. It is a fun family tradition for adults and kids alike.