This Thursday, December 5th, is Saint Nicholas’ Eve, a celebration of the saint’s birthday. In many parts of northern and central Europe, this is the big wintertime occasion for gift-giving (with Christmas, until recently, being celebrated more as a religious holiday than a candy-and-presents one).
Shoe-candy and windmill cookies. In preparation for the big day, little kids in Holland, Belgium and Germany (among other countries) put their shoes (not their stockings) in front of the chimneys and sing Sinterklaas songs. Sometimes, they’ll also leave a carrot or sweet hay in their shoes as a treat for St. Nicholas’ horse. On the morning of December 5, “if they’ve been good,” children will find a little present like candies or little toys waiting for them in their chimney-side shoes. A favorite windmill-shaped ginger cookie, Speculaas, is baked for the day’s celebration. (Our speculaas recipe is here).
Later that evening, Sinterklaas brings presents to every “good” child (just like the US, really, though, every child gets a present, even the naughty ones), placing a present-filled bag outside the house. Adults carry on the myth of Sinterklaas by knocking on the door or window, pretending to be Sinterklaas’ helper.
Zwarte Pieten, Krampus(es), and Knecht Ruprecht, aka Be good for goodness’ sake.
The myth is that, if a child had been naughty, Sinterklaas’ helper, the Zwarte Pieten (“Black Peter”, perhaps the least politically correct sidekick of the modern era), put all the naughty children in sacks, and Sinterklaas took them to his home in Spain (instead of the North Pole). More