Saint Nicholas

As all the world is preparing for Santa Claus to hit the airwaves at incredible speeds and using timewarping to make it to every child in the world, there is another saint going around in the Netherlands and some parts of Belgium. His name: Nicholas.

Sint and Pete, courtesy of Wikipedia

Original texts have disclosed that the patron saint of children refer to Nicolas of Myra, Myra was the capital of old Lycia - now known as Turkey - where he was bishop. Nicolas was born in Patara, apparently in the year 280 C.E.

The birthday of Sint Nicholas is celebrated on December 5th. For this, the old man comes over from Spain (where he now lives) by steamboat, accompanied by his faithful helpers, the black Petes. Their origin is probably Ethiopian. There is a story where St. Nicholas liberated an Ethiopian slave boy called Piter, which would give reason to the name.

Jan Steen Sint Nicolaasfeest
Saint Nicholas Fest, painting by Jan Steen, around 1663

A manuscript tells of an old tradition (early 1700s) where poor people would bring a shoe to the church, where then rich people would put something of need or value in those shoes. St. Nicholas is said to put gifts in shoes as well, it is not certain where this tradition started.

So while all the world has Santa Claus from the North Pole, there are different traditions. Lately, thanks to the efforts of commercial visionaries, we now also have Christmas as an opportunity to spend money on gifts. Preparations for that are starting way before those of Sinterklaas, it seems, and that's a sad thing. Another local tradition (yes, I admit it has turned into a commercial thing as no one seems to recall the background of old St. Nic) appears to fall victim to the more worldwide commercialism.


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