Saint Nicholas day is celebrated every year on the 6th of December for the Western Christian countries and on the 19th of December for the Eastern Christian countries.
It’s the feast day for Saint Nicholas and is a highly popular Christian festival. Saint Nicholas had a great reputation as a bringer of presents and as well as due to his tendency to attend mass services at church.
He’s a popular Christian Saint among the children of Europe and the legendary figures like America’s Santa Claus, British’s Father Christmas and Dutch’s Sinterklaas all derive their gift bringing and other attributes from him.
This day is a religious event but not a nationwide gazetted holiday in countries like United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The parade of Saint Nicholas is hosted in various cities and announces the arrival of Saint Nicholas to town. In the city of Brussels, it takes place on the eve of Saint Nicholas day i.e. on the 5th of December.
The historical figure of Saint Nicholas was a loved Christian Saint as during his lifetime he gained a reputation for putting in coins in other people’s shoes. He was officiated as a Bishop of Mira in Greece during the 4th century. He is a patron saint of quite a number of cities including Bari in Italy where he is believed to be buried. Legends say that he had first come to Spain from Turkey but no reason is known as to why he chose Spain. It’s also said that he had strong ties with Amsterdam since 343 AD.
Grand Parade In Amsterdam
Amsterdam boasts of hosting the largest Saint Nicholas Parade in the world. Every November, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas comes to visit Netherlands from his home in Spain. He brings lots of gifts and treats for the children and just a day after he arrives, he takes part in this colorful and worldwide known parade in Amsterdam.
It involves more than a kilometer of floats and boats and announces the arrival of Saint Nicholas in town. It takes place on a Sunday in mid-November with around 400,000 spectators who wave by standing along the canals. Around 600 of ‘Pieten’ and numerous ‘Pepernoten’ which are small spiced biscuits rain down on the spectators from the parade on this day.
A white-bearded Saint Nicholas makes its way into the city sailing down the river of Amstel and following a path within the city, past famous spots such as the Torontobrug, the Magere Brug, the Nieuwe Amstelbrug and the Hoge Sluis and the Royal Theatre Carre. This waterborne procession has its intermediate destination at the Maritime Museum where Saint Nicholas is welcomed to the city by its Mayor. The boat is then substituted by a white horse. This white horse is that of Saint Nicholas called Amerigo and then the parade is continued through the streets.
He is accompanied by his group of merry helpers the most popular being Zwarte Pieten who is the one to throw candies and cookies to the thousands of excited onlookers. After passing by other famous places of the city like Damrak and Prins Hendrikkade, Sinterklaas finally arrives at the final point during early afternoon at Dam Square where a special musical program is held especially for children. As the musical event comes to a finish, the parade continues through a few more places like Muntplein, Utrechtsestraat, Rokin before it ultimately comes to the last stop – the Leidseplein. On reaching the final stop, he delivers a special message and heartiest of greetings to his youngest fans standing on the Stadsschouwburg Balcony.
Traditions And Rituals
During the Saint Nicholas Day or Sinterklaas season, children tend to be on their best behavior and try to avoid getting into trouble. They lay out their shoes in the foyer before going to bed along with some water or wine for Sinterklaas and some carrot for the horse. They hope to be greeted with shoes filled with gifts in the morning. The good kids receive chocolate letters and marzipan while the naughty ones find coal in their shoes.
On the eve of the Saint Nicholas day, i.e. on the 5th of December, the main gifting occasion takes place and is known as ‘sinterklaasavond’ (Sinterklaas evening) or ‘pakjesavond’ (presents evening). On this evening, sinterklaas drops off his bag of gifts on the doorstep prior to returning back to Spain. The next day i.e. on the Saint Nicholas Day, people unwrap their presents and read aloud the poems written especially for each other. The day is spent in singing, a feast followed by a nap, and with special treats like marzipan, pepernoten and hot chocolate with whipped cream.