The feast of Saint Nicholas, a Dutch traditionNovember 25, 2009
Next week, on the fifth of December, we celebrate St. Nicholas Eve in Holland. The feast of St. Nicholas (or 'Sinterklaas') is an a...
Next week, on the fifth of December, we celebrate St. Nicholas Eve in Holland. The feast of St. Nicholas (or 'Sinterklaas') is an age old tradition in Holland, dating back to at least the 13th century. The Dutch painter Jan Steen painted this wonderful picture 'Saint Nicholas Feast' approximately 1665-1668 (below). The painting hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The description on the site of the Rijksmuseum reads: "A family celebrating St Nicholas Day. The children have just received their presents. The little girl is rather spoilt: she has a doll and a bucket full of sweets and toys. The boy crying, left, found the cane in his shoe. The older girl holds the shoe up triumphantly and another youngster points to it and laughs at the boy. But in the background, Grandma nods reassuringly to the unfortunate lad. Perhaps she has a present for him, hidden behind the curtain." (For a full description of the painting, visit the site of the Rijksmuseum here)
The original St. Nicholas was Nicholas, bishop of Myra (now in Turkey) who lived in the third and fourth century. He became known and revered for his kindness, fearlessness and religious beliefs. Over time, the story of St. Nicholas has been added to changed into the one we know today. The modern day St. Nicholas is a benevolent figure, living in Spain, caring for children, giving gifts and candy to those who have been good.
The feast of St. Nicholas is celbrated throughout the country (and Belgium too!) by both children and adults. The celebrations start about three weeks before the fifth of December, when St. Nicholas arrives from Spain on his steamboat, bringing his helpers ('Zwarte Piet' or Black Peter, whose origins are most likely Moorish) and lots of gifts with him. The arrival of St. Nicholas and his 'Pieten' is televised and broadcast live every year.
Two years ago I made St. Nicholas in miniature. I started with a porcelain figure I had bought several years ago. He was far too young looking so I used paint to age him and then wigged him and gave him a beard just like the 'real' St. Nicholas.
His clothing, miter and staff were quite a challenge to make, but turned out OK I think. Here he is on his visit to my house last year: