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Legends of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas)

Merry Christmas

There are many legends and stories of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas and Santa Claus. Here are a couple of them.


The story of Saint Nicholas started in Anatolia which is today known as the country of Turkey. He was born in 271 AD and lived for 72 years. There he was said to be a kind bishop whose love for children was widely known. Among the many claims about him is that he revived three dead children who had been beaten and that he once saved his city from starvation. It is generally believed, however, that he did spread his kindness to children throughout many parts of Europe.

He was said to travel throughout Europe and came to the Netherlands by boat. In Holland the legend has him coming from Spain and this might be due to the fact that at that time Holland was ruled by Spain and was famous for its shipping trade so the sailors claimed to have much contact with St. Nicholas. The people here revered him and his legends and even named him the patron Saint of Holland. There is a huge church in Amsterdam built to honor him. The church that is there now is the second one, however, as the first one was destroyed many years ago. He also became the patron saint of the sailors after a few claimed to have seen him from their ship and that he calmed the particularly rough seas. The Dutch translation for Saint Nicholas is "Sinterklaas", which he is the name he is known by today.

St. Nicolas Church, Amsterdam

The celebration of "Sinterklaas" in Holland starts around the 17th of November and lasts until December 5th when he leaves again to distribute toys, candy and fruit to children who have been "good little boys and girls". The children are supposed to leave straw or carrots in their shoes for the white horse of Sinterklaas, on which he rides throughout the world carrying the goodies.

Zwarte Piet

Legend has Zwarte Piet as either originally a slave from Turkey or a boy from Spain (legend differs here, too) who traveled with Sinterklaas. One of his duties was to carry the heavy Children's Name Book that told Sinterklaas whether they were good or bad. Piet carries the bag of toys and it is also said that the bag was for the bad children to be stuffed in to so they could be carried back to Spain. Zwarte Piet wears 17th century velvet clothing made of bright colors and the starched color that is typical among the early Dutch noblemen. Legends differ also about why Zwarte Piet is black. One says that it's because he was originally a slave from Turkey and the other says that it's because it's him that goes down the chimney with the presents.

When the Dutch settled in America in *New Amsterdam* (which is now known as New York) they took "Sinterklaas" with them and he was not known as Santa Claus until the poem "The Night Before Christmas" was written. From then on, he was associated with Christmas on December 25th. Until that time, there were no elves or reindeer. St. Nicholas on a white horse and his companion was "Zwarte Piet".

Please Note: I'd like to add more about the legends of St. Nicholas. If you know the legends of how and why he is celebrated in your country, please e-mail the story to me at the address you will find on the Contact Page. If I use your contribution, I will use your name as contributor so I will need your permission to do so.

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