for those of you that know, i’m married to a Dutch girl. Apparantly New Year’s day  isn’t celebrated much there, but as little as NY (not “New York”) is appreciated in The Netherlands, the Sinterklaas feast is celebrated as much. His Holiness’ feast is soon to be upon us again…

Therefore a little explanation on the old geezer :

Sinterklaas (sounds a lot like ‘Santa Claus‘  – more on that in a second) is one of those traditional Winter figures in The Netherlands, Belgium, and the older colonies of The Netherlands : Aruba, Suriname and Netherlands Antilles.
The old man is celebrated annually in Saint Nicholas’ eve (5 december) or in Belgium on 6 december. Tons of other countries celebrate him as well. More on that in the specific Wiki page.

The Sinterklaas feast (not an official holiday) celebrates the old bishop of Myra (Turkey), Nicholas or Nikolaos.
Nick is of greek origin and was known as a wonderworker and gift-giver (putting coins in shoes people left standing around for him).

The most commonly know legend about this man, which is also depicted in the logo of my hometown ‘Sint-Niklaas’ tells of a terrible famine that struck the island on which he lived. A butcher then lured 3 kids into his house, killed them and tried to sell their remains as ham.
Nikolaos is said to have thwarted the butchers plan, and to have brought back the three children to life, by use of prayer.
Many more anekdotes exist on this. More on that on the official Saint Nicholas Wiki page.

A lot of storytelling has been going on ever since (the guy died 6 december 347 A.D. after all) and many stories spun off from the one above, but all remained true to the fact that old Nick was a do-good’er.

Sinterklaas is depicted most of the time as an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional white bishop’s garment, wears a red mitre, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top and also has a ruby ring.
He carries the big book of Saint Nicolas that tells whether each individual child has been good or naughty in the past year.

Norwegian related stuff :

Some similarity can be discovered between Sinterklaas and the mythical presence of Odin, an old Germanic godly figure.
Although not really proven, many websites and books speak of the similarity in ‘horse-on-rooftops’ and black helpers.
This last fact brings us to the Sinterklaas helpers of nowadays : Zwarte Pieten


Zwarte Piet

The so-called Black Pete is basically Sinterklaas’ helper. Many folkloric tales tell of this black guy helping out the old geezer. Either as a funny black gnome assisting Sinterklaas in the aiding of those that are in need, or as a dark devilish character out to punish bad kids.
The reason for his/their link to Sint differs a bit in every tale…

niggah stole my pepernoten

  • Dutch colonial times
  • Moorish invasion of Spain
  • Zwarte Pieten depict the 2 black ravens Hugin and Munin, Odin’s helpers
  • Other Odin -relations refer to Nörwi, father of the night, which seems self-explanatory
  • Piter was an Ethyopean slave, who was sold in a Myran market. Nikolaos saved him

Santa Claus

Different theories again exist on how the European old guy became the American invention called ‘Santa Claus’.
Their core exist of a truth that in the early 1800′s Dutch folklore brought the Sinterklaas character to a revival in the United States, slowly degenerating the true meaning of the story behind Sinterklaas.
His Holiness’ picture was actually used in an American pamflet to promote ‘Sancta Claus’ as the patron Saint for New York. This didn’t really work out great in the end, but the cartoonesque character remained, and he kept returning in New York’s Christmas parade.
The word spread and the red ‘n’ white character was quickly linked to the 25th of december.
As it happens with Dutch immigrants, they travel back home every now and then. A select group of Europeans soon got know the name of Santa Claus, without the link back to the Christian belief that held Sinterklaas together.
Logn story short : the modernization of the world quickly lead  to faster communication worldwide, and soon ‘Saint Nick’ was known all over the globe.
Zwarte Pieten got replaced by elves but presents remained.

But that’s a different story :)

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