Monday, November 27, 2017

Sint Nicolaas - the Connection between Santa Claus and Dutch Folklore

The holiday season has truly started in the U.S. with the Thanksgiving holiday last week. However, in other parts of the world, other tradional holidays will be celebrated as well and some of those are closely connected to the U.S. and its upcoming Christmas celebrations. An interesting example is in the Netherlands, where the feast of Sint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas will be celebrated, which consists of giving gifts to children on  St. Nicholas' Eve, the evening of  December 5.

Saint Nicholas, who lived from 270 to December 6, 343 AD, was the Greek Bishop of Myra (located in modern day Turkey) and he was a Christian saint known for his miracles and secret gift-giving. Saint Nicholas attended the First Council of Nicaea, which was the first effort to attain consensus in the Church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. Later on Saint Nicholas became an important figure for Italians and Greeks, honored in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Throughout Europe he is celebrated for his generosity, especially towards children.

In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas became a figure of folklore, who would visit the Netherlands every November traveling by steamboat from Spain, riding a white horse and joined by mischievous and hilarious helpers, called Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"), companions with blackened faces and colourful Moorish dresses. Zwarte Piet first appeared in print in Sint Nicolaas en zijn knecht ("St. Nicholas and His Servant/Apprentice"), published in 1850 by Jan Schenkman, a teacher from Amsterdam. Schenkman also became well-known for his poems about Saint Nicholas, which are still sung throughtout the holidays, for example:'Zie, ginds komt de stoomboot' ("Look over yonder, the steamboat is arriving").

To complete the circle of holidays in the U.S. and the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas became the model for the American Santa Clause. When the Dutch established the colony of New Amsterdam (modern day New York),  they celebrated the traditions of Saint Nicholas, and apparently over time shortened "Sinterklaas" to "Santa Claus".  In the early 1800s, American books were published that symbolized the advent of Santa Claus in American tradition, for example: A New-year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve and A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore.

It is with this fascinating history in mind, from the early Christian days to European and Dutch folklores, and the connection to the Santa Clause tradition in North America, that Cosimo is proud to present to our Dutch readers a beautiful color replica of the Dutch edition of Sint-Nikolaas en zijn knecht by Jan Schenkman. A wonderful gift for children, booklovers and those interested in folklore, and a reminder of the confluence of history and folklore. Enjoy the holidays and Prettig Sinterklaasfeest!

This book is available from online bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, and Amazon (print and eBook).

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