Celebrations in Netherlands
In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas arrives in Amsterdam from Spain by ship three weeks before his feast day. He leads a parade to the city's main square, where he is greeted by the royal family and talks over the children's behavior during the year with the mayor. Zwarte Piet, or "Black Peter," accompanies him. This stern character carries a big red book, in which reports on the children are kept, and he is said to carry birch rods to punish the bad children and even to stuff the naughtiest into his bag to be carried back to Spain for punishment.

St. Nicholas Eve is greeted with festive family dinners, after which Sinterklaas himself often makes a personal appearance. He may toss candies and toys through the door, or come in with Zwarte Piet to give a mock lecture on good behavior and to open his bag of sweets to the children.

Later that night, Nicholas takes to the skies on a white horse, on which he is said to jump from roof to roof and down the chimney of each house. There he finds children's shoes or baskets filled with hay for his horse. He exchanges the hay for candy and toys and gold chocolate coins. Early on the morning of the sixth, children awake to search eagerly for their baskets (which Sinterklaas takes delight in hiding) and to enjoy the treasures the good saint has left.

For families with older children and adults, different twists are added to the gift giving and may include gag gifts or the drawing of gift ideas or names, and most times are accompanied by poems with a "personal touch" that poke fun at the recipient in a gentle way (or not, depending on the families ;) . Wrapping the presents up in odd packages and planting a trail of clues is also part of the general fun, and can sometimes be pretty tricky to get to, depending on the squeamishness of the recipients.

Early Dutch settlers in America brought their beloved Sinterklaas with them, where he eventually evolved into the cultural (rather than Christian) symbol we know today. Reviving the festival of St. Nicholas on December 6 may be one way to retain the fun and generosity of gift-giving without eclipsing the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

St. Nicholas Day     Christmas Index