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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

St. Nicholas Day: December 6

Zwarte Piete / Sandra van der Steen -

St. Nicholas Day is a popular celebration for children across many European countries. St. Nicholas is the predecessor to Santa Claus and has a reputation for his generosity. As legend has it, he leaves children presents if they are nice and coal if they are naughty in their shoes.

St. Nicholas lived in what was formerly Greece and is now Turkey in the third century A.D. He is most commonly known as the patron saint of children; but he is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers and those wrongly imprisoned. His rich parents died while he was young and left him a large inheritance. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist those in need, following Jesus’s words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas derive from the legend of St. Nicholas. He is recognized by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches.

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated slightly differently depending on the country. In the Netherlands, the eve of Saint Nicholas (December 5) is the primary occasion for gift exchange. Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace and sing songs in anticipation of a small present in their shoes. On the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) brings presents to every child that has behaved well. The presents are delivered by Sinterklaas’ assistant, Zwarte Piete (Black Pete), who has a black-painted face and is dressed in traditional clothing dating back two centuries. According to the legend, if a child had been naughty, Zwarte Piete puts the naughty children in sacks, and Sinterklaas takes them to Spain, from where it is believed Sinterklaas originates.

In Germany, children put a boot or shoe called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside their door on the night of December 5. St. Nicholas fills the shoes with gifts and sweets if the children have been good. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (rute) in their boots instead.

© 2012, The Editors. All rights reserved.

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InCultureParent is an online magazine for parent's raising little global citizens. Centered on global parenting culture and traditions, we feature articles on parenting around the world and on raising multicultural and multilingual children.

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  1. CommentsSt. Nicholas Day: December 6 InCultureParent « Livelifenowexpt's Blog   |  Tuesday, 30 November 2010 at 10:03 pm

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  2. CommentsAll Dressed Up for Christmas -the Santa Suit Tradition   |  Sunday, 09 January 2011 at 2:45 pm

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  3. CommentsDe'Marie   |  Thursday, 08 December 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Glad to hear about St. Nicholas again; he was a major part of my childhood. Yes, here in the USA. On Dec 6, some decorations were put up inside the house – like candles or wreaths in the windows, then two weeks (usually the 12th of December) before Christmas day the tree went up. Because of having a large family, we received our gifts – if we were well behaved – on Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning began with breakfast – pancakes cut in holiday shapes smothered in maple syrup. Afterwards we went to church, and after church services we visited the family members that lived a few miles away, and usually did not return home until late in the evening. Note: The biggest gift given a child on Christmas day was usually a bicycle – red ones for girls, blue ones for the boys. Ah, things were simple then and somewhat innocent.

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