Today in some parts of Europe people are celebrating St. Nicholas Day. I was surprised when I did a little bit of research to find out that in The Netherlands it’s celebrated too. Usually the traditions are similar within an area. I made a couple of Dutch desserts because I wanted to try something new and my husband loves desserts. In Romania, traditionally children are given sweets as gifts or a stick if they were naughty. The gifts are left for the kids in their shoes and only if they are cleaned. As a child I was adding my slippers to the mix, only to help St. Nicholas with extra space for all the gifts he was giving me. My mother and I used to have a lengthy conversation about shoes vs. footwear on St. Nicholas. I did that again this year, I put my slippers, for extra space. I was making fun last night that, if I get up earlier than my husband, I will move all my high heels shoes in front of the fireplace. He said I wouldn’t as he didn’t think of getting enough gifts for 20+ pair of shoes. This is what we got last year for St. Nicholas Day.
On our trip to Edinburgh a couple of months ago I saw this picture at the Scottish National Gallery. Three Legends of St. Nicholas was painted in the early 16th century by Gerard David. St. Nicholas was Archbishop of Myra in Asia in the 4th century and he was the patron of children. He is also known as “Santa Claus”. In the left panel he appears as a baby and he is thanking God for his birth. In the centre panel he saves three impoverished girls by giving them dowries to be able to get married. On the right panel he is depicted as a bishop that revives three boys who have been killed.
In The Netherlands, for the children the most important day in December is the 5th, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents. Sinterklaas travels with his servants Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) through The Netherlands from the middle of November, as he usually lives in Madrid, Spain. He will arrive in The Netherlands in a different harbour each year.
Children were told that the Zwarte Pieten keeps records of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book. Good children will get gifts and bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten takes them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave. Not much of a punishment if you ask me.
In The Netherlands parties are held on the 5th with treasure hunt games, the treasures being little presents left by Sinterklaas.
It was fun to read about their traditions and baking Dutch desserts, like Kerstkrans.