Strictly speaking, the tradition of
St. Nicholas is not synonomous with the role of Santa Claus in the U.S..
As practiced in many European countries, the celebration of St. Nicholas
is separate from the Christmas holidays, and occurs during the 2 weeks
prior to December 6th, which is St. Nicholas's day. Sometimes St. Nicholas
Day is the main holiday for gift giving, and not Christmas.
him Kleeschen, and his helper is Ho˜seker
(Black Peter). Belgian children know him as Sint Niklaas.
Educator's Resource Center
|In the Netherlands, legend
has it that Sinterklaas (Dutch name for St. Nicholas) arrives in the Netherlands
by way of steamboat from Spain 2 weeks before his traditional birthday,
December 6th, along with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who will
help disperse the gifts and candy to all the good children. Sinterklaas,
along with the zwarte piets, will go abroad at night and stride about the
countryside wearing his red mantle, his mitre, and his golden crosier and
sporting a long, white beard. Referring to his book that lists all the
good and bad children, Sinterklaas will deliver presents to all the good
children, but watch out if you've been bad! The bad children may be taken
back to Spain with him. The Low Countries (Belgium and Luxemburg) have
basically the same traditions surrounding St. Nicholas, but not to the
extent of the Netherlands. Children
in Luxemburg call
In Germany, St. Nicholas is also known
as Klaasbuur, Sunnercla, Burklaas, Bullerklaas, and Rauklas, and in eastern
Germany, he is also known as Shaggy Goat, Ash Man and Rider and is more
reflective of earlier pagan influences (Norse) that were blended in with
the figure of St. Nicholas, when Christianity came to Germany. After the
reformation, St. Nicholas's attire began to change, maybe as a reflection
of the change from the Roman church, and he started to wear a red suit
with fur. His dark-skinned helper is most often known as Knecht Ruprecht.
Although he still visits many homes on Dec 5th/6th and leaves candy and
gifts in the children's shoes, more recently St. Nicholas has begun showing
up on Christmas Eve in Germany and is called Father Christmas.
|In France, he is now called
Pere Noel (Father Christmas) and he travels in the company of Pere Fouettard.
Pere Noel leaves presents for good children, while Pere Fouettard disciplines
bad children with a spanking. Pere Noel only sometimes leaves presents
on St. Nicholas day, more often now on Christmas. St. Nicholas day was
celebrated formerly in Russia, but under Communism he was changed to Grandfather
Frost and wore blue instead of red. In Sicily, he comes on Dec 13th and
is called Santa Lucia.
St. Nicholas was born in 271 AD and
died around December 6, 342 or 343 AD near the Asia Minor (Turkey) town
of Myra,. where he later became Bishop. He performed many good deeds and
was a friend to the poor and helpless, and upon his death, myths soon sprang
up about him all around the Mediterranean Sea. He was reputed to be able
to calm the raging seas, rescue desperate sailors, help the poor and downtrodden,
and save children. He was soon named as the patron saint of sailors, and
when Myra was overthrown, his bones were transported by sailors to Bari,
a port in Italy, where a tomb was built over the grave and became the center
of honor for St. Nicholas. From here the legend spread on around to the
Atlantic Coast of Europe and the North Sea to become a European holiday
tradition regardless of religion.
||Saint Nicholas was renowned
for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among
the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls
from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three
murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas.
For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried
girls, and sailors, among others.
The Holiday Today
In anticipation of St. Nicholas's
nightly visits, children in several European countries put their shoes
in front of the fire place. They sing traditional songs and provide a carrot
or hay for the horse. At night Black Pete puts gifts and candy in the shoes.
Painting from Women
for Faith and Family
In the Netherlands, families celebrate
St Nicholas's birthday the night before his feast day (December 6th). At
one point during the evening, a loud knock will herald the arrival of Sinterklaas
and at the same time candy may be thrown from upstairs; when the door is
opened, a bag of gifts will be on the doorstep.
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.
The web site, St.
Nicolas Center, has extensive information on Saint Nicolas. The
site expand on the traditions of St. Nicolas Day in 30 countries around