volunteer adventures

Set out your shoe
November 12, 2011, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The start of the mandarin season, a new kind of candy with marzipan from the shop around the corner and the smell of freshly baked gingerbread reminds me of the arrival of Saint Nicholas (‘Sinterklaas’). Coincidence or not, today children’s best friend arrived in Antwerp by boat from Spain. At least that is where he supposedly lives since the 19th century. Some say the tradition goes back to Nikolaos of Myra, a Greek bishop to whom many miracles were attributed.

In Belgium, the Netherlands and a part of Germany Saint Nicholas can be compared to Santa Claus. He is an old man with white hair and a long beard. He wears a long red cape and an alb and on his head stands a red mitre. He carries a big book with him stating whether the children have been good or not. If they have behaved well their names are written on the golden pages, if not, their names are written on the red pages and they risk go be taken in a bag to Spain. Saint Nicholas is always accompanied by his white horse and traditionally one Black Pete (‘Zwarte Piet’).  Black Pete helps Saint Nicholas by carrying the candy and the presents and going down the chimney to put the presents in the shoes of the children. On the evening of the 5th of December Belgian children set out their shoe and a plate with food for the horse near the chimney, a window or a door. In the morning they find gifts, tangerines and chocolate.

Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated in Europe in many different ways. In Czech Republic for example children disguise as Saint Nicholas, the devil and the angel and sing songs from door to door. In the German part of Switzerland the saint sits on a donkey and does not come from Spain but out of the woods. In Croatia ‘Sveti Nikola’ visits on December 6 bringing presents to children as a reward for their good behavior. If the children have been bad, they will be visited by the creature of ‘Krampus’, who will make the parents punish the children.

Belgians most popular television show about the arrival of Saint Nicholas (‘Dag Sinterklaas’) is almost 20 years old but is still being shown on national television every year during the weeks before the 6th of December. I suggest you all set out your shoe…