Tomorrow, here in The Netherlands, we celebrate Sinterklaas! And I thought for all of you foreign readers ( I believe all but one of the persons on my f-list are foreign) this would be a nice topic for this week's '100 things' post. The next three posts are going to be about Christmas related facts. So if there's some Christmas tradition you've always wondered about or if you know a very nice, little-know, Christmassy fact, please let me know!
So, Sinterklaas... It's a traditional Winter holiday celebrated mainly in The Netherlands, but also known in other European countries. The feast is celebrated on the eve of 5 December, traditionally the name day of the Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children, sailors and the city of Amsterdam. Nicholas was a bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey in the third century. Many of the legends attached to this saint speak of his secret-gift giving, which might have given rise to the present-day Sinterklaas stories. Already during the Middle Ages, people would put coins into the shoes of poor people at the name day of Saint Nicholas.
Sinterklaas arrives in the middle of November by a steamboat (patron saint of sailors) from Spain (probably because Saint Nicholaas relics are here) to The Netherlands. The arrival of Sinterklaas in one of the cities of The Netherlands is broadcast live on television. The appearance of Sinterklaas is typical of a bishop, with a long red cape over a white bishop's alb, wearing a mitre and carrying a crosier (a ceremonial shepherd's staf). From the arrival of Sinterklaas on, children in The Netherlands can leave their shoe at the fireplace in the evening. They will be encouraged to place a carrot or some hay in the shoe as a treat for Sinterklaas' horse and of course a list with their wishes. The next morning they will find candy or a small treat in their shoe. It's amazing how early you are prepared to leave your warm bed when you've put your shoe up, I can tell you!! The main feast, at 5 December, more and larger presents will be given. They often arrive mysteriously in a burlap sack on your doorstep....
Sinterklaas is not only celebrated in families with young children, but also groups of adults will celebrate it. They will often exchange presents by drawing lots and adorn the present with a specially written comical poem or a personally wrapped gift called a 'surprise'. A lot of special Sinterklaas candy is eaten around this period, among others kruidnoten (small, round, gingerbread cookies) and chocolate letters (often the first letter of your name).
Sinterklaas is one of the main sources for the figure of Santa Clause, though it is unknown how and when this transition has exactly taken place.
If you want to know some more about Dutch Winter, Christmas and New Year traditions, read this
post I wrote two years ago.