Festive celebrations: St Nicolas in the Netherlands

The period between mid-November and 5th December is a very exciting time for children in the Netherlands. Bishop St Nicolas and his indispensable helpers – who all go by the name of Black Peter – journey from Spain to Holland by steamboat.

They bring with them bags of presents, chocolate and sweets, which they give to each and every child. Provided they’ve been good, of course. If the Saint finds out that a child has been naughty, he or she is taken back to Spain in one of the empty present bags!

Image courtesy of FaceMePLS under Creative Commons licence.

Image courtesy of FaceMePLS under Creative Commons licence.

The arrival of the white-bearded bishop, who spends his winters in Madrid, is a huge national event celebrated with a lot of fanfare. Every year The Saint chooses a different arrival city – in 2013 it’s Groningen. Clad in a red robe and mitre, he rides around town on his white horse, followed by the Black Peters who throw spiced biscuits called ‘pepernoten’ into the crowds and entertain the children with their acrobatics.

The arrival of The Saint is only the beginning. From this moment on, children throughout the country place their shoes in front of the fireplace or by the front door before they go to sleep.  While singing a few St Nicolas songs, they leave hay and a carrot in their shoe and place a bowl of water for St Nicolas’ horse, in the hope of finding their shoe filled with chocolate letters, ginger cakes called ‘taaitaai’ and marzipan the following morning.

Image courtesy of Hans Splinter under Creative Commons licence.

Image courtesy of Hans Splinter under Creative Commons licence.

This shoe ritual is repeated till the evening of 5th December, also known as present night. This is the highlight of St Nicolas’ stay in the Netherlands as he and his Black Peters ride across the roofs and drop presents down every chimney in the country. Afterwards, The Saint and his Black Peters quietly return to Spain, where they get back to work on their ‘naughty and nice’ list and prepare next year’s presents!

If you want your name on St Nicholas’ nice list in 2014, show him and his helpers your dedication by visiting the Netherlands on one of our trips: Best of Holland or Best of Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. There are several departure dates where you’ll be able to experience the fun, festive spirit of this tradition.

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