Sint Nicolaas (Sinterklaas)
My personal memories of Sinterklaas are a mixture of excitement and fear.
Excitement because of the presents and fear because presents were only for the good children—and what child has been good all year?
The story was that very naughty children would be put into a large hessian sack and taken to Spain to work with the helpers making presents. I didn't know of any children that had been taken, but you never knew; there was always this uncertainty.
After his arrival in our country Sinterklaas would be riding his horse on the rooftops accompanied by Zwarte Piet, his helper, to drop presents and sweets in the shoes of children that had been good. It made me fearful to be out after dark (in winter it is dark at 4pm in Holland) and sometimes, going home from a friend's place in the same street, I would throw anxious glances at the rooftops just in case Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet where up there!
Some evenings, before going to bed, we would put our shoe, filled with some hay and a carrot, in front of the heater and sing some songs called "Sinterklaas liedjes". The next morning we would find our shoes filled with goodies. We never questioned how they got there in spite of the fact that the chimney was connected to a burning heater.
Oh the confidence and trust of childhood!
Sometimes, in the afternoon or evening, there would be a rap on the door and the black hand of Zwarte Piet would throw little sweet biscuits called pepernoten into the room. Fearfully I would hide under the table while the other children collected most of the sweets. I must have been a very naughty child!
On the fifth of December, as soon as it was dark, there would be a knock on the front door and a large bag, full of presents, was delivered by Sinterklaas. I never saw him myself. One of the parents normally opened the door!
The memories of those evenings: opening the presents, believing in the existence of this nice but also scary man Sinterklaas and the even scarier Zwarte Piet; have left me with a feeling of happiness, excitement and a memory of the nice things my mother made to eat and drink that evening.
These are very treasured childhood memories!=================
In the fourth century St.Nicolaas was the Bishop of Myra in Turkey. The legend tells us that he was a generous man and gave gifts to poor children on the evening of his birthday. It is unclear why according to the Dutch tradition, St.Nicolaas or Sinterklaas comes from Spain!
The birthday of Sinterklaas is celebrated each year on the eve of December the fifth and although it is especially a feast for children adults enjoy it too. Adults will receive presents wrapped up as a surprise. For example a small present might be hidden in a large box or one might receive only a note and be obliged to go from one place to another until finally finding the real present. It is also tradition to write little poems to relate to the present or the person receiving it.
St.Nicolaas arrives by boat in Holland in the middle of November and is accompanied by his helpers called "Black Peters" or, in Dutch, "Zwarte Pieten".
During the year Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten live in Spain where they make all the gifts they'll distribute at Christmas.
Between his arrival in Holland and his birthday on the fifth of December, Sinterklaas visits all the houses by travelling with Schimmel, his white horse, over the roofs. Zwarte Piet goes down the chimneys to place small presents in the shoes which children have placed in front of the fireplace. The shoes have been filled with straw, carrots and water for the horse.
On the evening of the fifth of December, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will visit all the children and adults that have been good during the year and leave behind a bag full of presents. The next day, after having visited everybody, Sinterklaas leaves again for Spain with his horse and helpers. In Spain the Zwarte Pieten will be busy all year making new presents for their next visit to Holland!
Recipe for Pepernoten
40 gr soft butter
50 gr brown sugar
1½ teaspoon mixed cinamon
and clove powder
100 gr self rising flour
1½ spoon of milk
a pinch of salt
Would you like to hear the Sinterklaas song:"zie ginds komt de stoomboot"?