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Celebrating Saint Nicholas: December Traditions

There are many ways of making the Advent season meaningful.  In our society where the holiday season for children often means a big case of the “gimmies”, how can we celebrate in a way that brings meaning to the season? Or rather uncovers the meaning already present.

In the coming weeks we will be writing a series of posts called December traditions.  Here is the second in the series, this time about celebrating Saint Nicholas.

Our family, an interesting patchwork, has three nationalities among it with five different countries of birth.  The children identify with their countries of birth, so the flag of the country is an important symbol in our home.   If had ever wanted to design it like this, it would have never worked.  So nature just threw us this patchwork.

When December comes around, the celebrations of the parents’ cultures seem to take over though.  Our first celebration is that of St. Nicholas, the patron Saint of Children.

Preparations start in the middle of November, when St. Nicholas officially arrives in the Netherlands in preparation for his birthday on December 6.  This event is broadcasted on TV and this year we managed to experience it though the internet.

In the three weeks leading up to December 6, kids are allowed to put our their shoe in the evening with their wish list, drawings and a carrot for St. Nicholas’ horse.  However, since St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, and his helpers ‘de pieten’ are such busy people, we only put the shoes out once a week.  The next morning, the kids are delighted that they were not forgotten in the far-away Kenya, and find a chocolate coin or two in their shoes. On the morning of December 6, there is also a small gift from the good Saint and his helper, who on that day quietly return to Spain to prepare for the next trip to the Netherlands in eleven months!  December 6 is also ‘Nikolaus’ in Germany, so Dutch and German culture meet that morning, although ‘Nikolaus’ does not come from Spain and has only one helper with him, ‘Knecht Ruprecht’.

Now that we live in a city with a larger Dutch expat population, Sinterklaas and some Pieten do pay a personal visit during the day and the children have a chance to meet them up close and personal!  The children are excited that Sinterklaas manages to even come to Kenya with so many children already wanting to see him in the Netherlands and Belgium.   Here are my three with Sint en Piet this Saturday.

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas?  If so, what does your celebration look like?

More about our traditional German advent celebrations will follow soon. . .

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  • Phyllis

    How beautiful. We celebrate only December 8 by leaving out their shoes on the night of the 5th. Traditionally we have them write their letters to Santa on Dec. 6, too.

    • Andrea_from_ziezo

      That’s a lovely tradition Phyllis!

  • Elizabeth

    Ik volg deze blog al heel lang, maar wist niet dat er een Nederlander bijdroeg! Over het algemeen zijn de Amerikanen in mijn leven heel erg geschokt als ik hen vertel over sint en zijn pieten. Het idee van een zwart geschminkt hulpje is onverteerbaar voor ze. Ik probeer nu niet meer over te dragen wat Sinterklaas betekent in Nederland, compleet met sinterklaasjournaal. Mijn zoontje is nog maar 1, maar ik zing wel sinterklaasliedjes met hem en als de tijd komt zal ik pepernoten met hem bakken en hem zijn schoen laten zetten.

    • Andrea_from_ziezo

      Zwarte Piet is inderdaad niet echt goed uit te leggen aan mensen van andere culturen, maar vooral in de VS is het extra moeilijk met de historie het zwart geschminkte gezicht. . . Hier in Kenia is de situatie ook erg interessant, maar ze zijn er niet zo uitgesproken over, het is meer een rare traditie van de Nederlanders.

      Interessant genoeg is het voor mijn kinderen gewoon ‘piet’. . .

  • Becca

    Such beautiful traditions! I haven’t figured out how to celebrate w/ St Nicholas and Santa. I think my inquisitive almost 8 year old would be confused since we didn’t start him out with the tradition. Love your pictures & window into your world.

    • Andrea_from_ziezo

      Thanks Becca. The two can be confusing, unless you grow up with them I guess. After all, they are one and the same. . .

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for sharing this, Andrea! We grew up hanging up our stockings on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas and opening them on his Feast Day. I loved the tradition so much that we decided to carry it on with our own children. On this day, we retell the story of St. Nicholas, the man who was the original “Santa Claus”…a man overflowing with generosity and love for the poor. I find it inspires the children to start thinking of “what can I give” this Christmas…rather than “what am I going to get”.

    • Andrea_from_ziezo

      Thank you for sharing Rebecca! I like the tradition of inspiring the kids. It’s a great way to focus on the sharing rather than the ‘getting’, the latter is so easily come by. . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/annette.frontz Annette Bransby Frontz

    Thank you so much for sharing the background info for St. Nicholas day!

    Thank you so much for linking up to Waldorf Wednesday. I hope we’ll see you back this week!
    http://ourseasonsofjoy.com/advent/waldorf-wednesday-15/

  • Ann Rinkenberger

    What a wonderful way to celebrate St. Nicholas Day!

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