In the fourth century saint Nicolas was bisshop of Myra, now in Turkey. During his life he made a lot of miracles happen. He saved a child from burning, he saved sailors from drowning, he prevented a famine and when a poor man had no dowry to give to his daughters, little pouches with money appeared in the house, enough for the dowry.
In the 11th century his body was taken from Myra by sailors who brought him to their hometown Bari, where they built a cathedral for him.
Saint Nicolas is the patron saint for sailors, children and he is also the patron of Orthodox Russia and the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.
In the Netherlands the catholic roots of the feast of Saint Nicolas are mostly forgotten by most people. The tradition of celebrating 'Sinterklaas' is centuries old and the tradition has many customs. According to the stories Saint Nicolas lives in Spain during the rest of the year, but in November he comes to the Netherlands on his steamship. He has the company of his servants, called the 'Zwarte Pieten', (the Black Petes).
|A Saint Nicolas and a Black Pete|
|When Sinterklaas arrives..|
It is customary to give presents to eachother, especially to the children. In the weeks before the fifth of December, children can place their shoe by the fireplace, and Saint Nicolas will fill it with little presents and sweets. This was already done in the 17th century, as you can see on this picture by Dutch painter Jan Steen.
Sinterklaas rides on a white horse over the rooftops, and he uses the chimney to deliver the presents. In his big red book he has the names of all the children and he knows if they were good or not. Sometimes, the children were told that bad children would be taken back to Spain by Sinterklaas.
|Traditional sweets for the fifth of December|