Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, celebrated on the Eve, December 5th, in G's homeland , the Netherlands (as well as in some other countries). In a post last month I mentioned chocoladeletters (chocolate letters), and Mrs. Micawber wanted to know more about them.

Sinterklaas or Sint, as the Saint is affectionately known in Holland, brings a chocolate letter that matches the person's first initial to boys and girls, young and old. He also brings other sweets as well as presents. When we were first married, I asked G's daughter K about the tradition and how it related to Christmas, as here in the U.S., Christmas is gift-giving time. "No," she said, "Sinterklaas is the time for gifts. Christmas is a religious holiday." Oh, right. Imagine that!

We used to be able to buy chocoladeletters from a Dutch shop not too far from us, but they closed, so now I order them from a shop in Holland, Michigan. Who orders them from the real Holland.

G used to be a wonderful artist. He would draw an image of Sint with his bishop's hat and shepherd's crook (mitre and crosier) on each of the white-tissue-paper-wrapped chocoladeletters we were giving to family and friends. When it began to be clear that G wouldn't be able to continue doing the artwork for much longer, I scanned one of his drawings. Now I print the drawing onto a card, so that part of our tradition continues.

A few weeks ago, Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands, as he does each year by steamship from his home in Spain. (There's more about the whole tradition, here.) He rides a white horse, and his arrival is a very big deal, broadcast on national television. Families, if they aren't close enough to the arrival city to be there in person, gather around their TV sets and watch the spectacle. K was kind enough to take some pictures (of their television screen!) of the event for us to see. Including her daughter M's share of the Sint-watching treats.

Sint and assistant Piet on the ship

Coming into the harbor

The crowds!

Sint on his white horse.

Sint-watching goodies.


  1. This is wonderful! Thanks so much for the interesting post. I imagine this custom must pre-date the Reformation.

    My niece and her husband celebrate St. Nicholas' Day and give gifts to their children. Personally, I'd love to separate the gift-giving from the actual day of Christmas, and just go to church instead. (Also I'd rather have Christmas in January or February when we really need it.)

    It's so fun to read about holiday customs around the world.

    And G's artwork is fantastic. What a great thing you preserved it.

  2. Catching up here!
    Thanks for sharing this with us. So many colorful and wonderful traditions around this world of ours.


Thank you!