St. Nicholas5 Dec 2012 3:49PM Views : 3260 Unique : 330
In the Netherlands we didn't use to give each other presents at Christmas, but on the 5th of December: St. Nicholas Day - and many people still do (although giving presents at Christmas is gaining ground, and of course there are also those who like have it both ways and do it on both days). We call St. Nicholas 'Sint Nicolaas', or 'Sinterklaas' - 'Sint' for those who prefer the short version. He is the predecessor of Santa Claus (who is an Anglo-Saxon variation on St. Nicholas).
St. Nicholas was a historic figure, a young bishop of Myra who worked in what is now a village in southern Turkey, and he was known for his generosity to the needy, children and sailors. According to Dutch tradition, he has lived in Spain since returning from Turkey, and he takes a steam ship to the Netherlands every year in November to check if the children here have been good, and who has been good gets presents on what is supposedly his birthday, 5 December. He is assisted by a great number of black helpers who are all called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), and he has a white horse that's able to negotiate heights, and especially roofs. His helpers take presents down the chimneys (many parents have difficulty explaining how that works with central heating or underfloor heating, but I suppose the problem would be similar for Santa Claus), and leave the gifts behind, usually accompanied by special Sinterklaas sweets.
Below, you can see Saint Nicholas with one of his helpers talking to one of the many children who were waiting for him in a department store last Saturday.