Strictly speaking, the tradition of St. Nicholas is not
synonomous with the role of Santa Claus in the U.S.. As
practiced in many European countries, the celebration of St.
Nicholas is separate from the Christmas holidays, and occurs
during the 2 weeks prior to December 6th, which is St.
Nicholas's day. In some European countries, St. Nicholas Day is
the main holiday for gift giving, and not Christmas.
saint has remained as consistently popular as Nicholas, who has
been revered throughout Europe as the patron saint of virgins,
children, sailors, and a host of others including scholars,
clerks, and robbers. His feast day is an important festival in
many places and nearly universally associated with gift-giving,
but it is from the Dutch celebration that we in the U.S. draw
much of our Santa tradition.
Netherlands, legend has it that Sinterklaas (Dutch name for St.
Nicholas) arrives in the Netherlands by way of steamboat from
Spain 2 weeks before his traditional birthday, December 6th,
along with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who will help
disperse the gifts and candy to all the good children.
Sinterklaas, along with the zwarte piets, will go abroad at
night and stride about the countryside wearing his red mantle,
his mitre, and his golden crosier and sporting a long, white
beard. Referring to his book that lists all the good and bad
children, Sinterklaas will deliver presents to all the good
children, but watch out if you've been bad! The bad children may
be taken back to Spain with him. The Low Countries (Belgium and
Luxemburg) have basically the same traditions surrounding St.
Nicholas, but not to the extent of the Netherlands. Children in
Luxemburg call him Kleeschen, and his helper is Ho˜seker (Black
Peter). Belgian children know him as Sint Niklaas.
In Germany, St.
Nicholas is also known as Klaasbuur, Sunnercla, Burklaas,
Bullerklaas, and Rauklas, and in eastern Germany, he is also
known as Shaggy Goat, Ash Man and Rider and is more reflective
of earlier pagan influences (Norse) that were blended in with
the figure of St. Nicholas, when Christianity came to Germany.
After the reformation, St. Nicholas's attire began to change,
maybe as a reflection of the change from the Roman church, and
he started to wear a red suit with fur. His dark-skinned helper
is most often known as Knecht Ruprecht. Although he still visits
many homes on Dec 5th/6th and leaves candy and gifts in the
children's shoes, more recently St. Nicholas has begun showing
up on Christmas Eve in Germany and is called Father Christmas.
In France, he
is now called Pere Noel (Father Christmas) and his helper is Pre
Fouettard. Pere Noel only sometimes leaves presents on St.
Nicholas day, more often now on Christmas. St. Nicholas day was
celebrated formerly in Russia, but under Communism he was
changed to Grandfather Frost and wore blue instead of red. In
Sicily, he comes on Dec 13th and is called Santa Lucia.
Nicholas Day Christmas