In Holland, Bishop Sinterklaas arrives every year in the beginning
of December. Wearing rich robes and a miter, he arrives from Spain
in a boat filled with gifts. At the port he mounts his horse, Schimmel,
and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter, is
dressed in puffed velvet breeches and a plumed beret. He carries a
sack of candy on his shoulder and a birch rod in his hand. In the
Middle Ages, Black Pete was referred to as the devil, but has evolved
into an amiable, grinning joker who assists Sinterklaas by carrying
presents. These two are welcomed by a huge crowd. Sinterklaas and
Zwarte Piet then take a tour of the port city throwing out sweets
for the children.
During the weeks before
St. Nicholas Eve, Sinterklaas listens at doors and near chimneys
to learn if the children are being good. Before going to bed on
Saint Nicholas Eve the children fill their shoes with hay and carrots
and place them in front of the fireplace for Sinterklaas's horse.
They also provide cookies for the saint.
All over Holland, St.
Nicholas Eve parties provide entertainment for the young and old
alike. Gathering around the table in the evening the guests receive
giftsthe Dutch call them surprisesrather than presents
because each gift must be accompanied by a verse written by the
giver and signed by Sinterklaas. The giver must remain anonymous.
The gift is wrapped plainly and often concealed inside potatoes,
sausages, and puddings. The greater the ingenuity in disguising
and camouflaging the gift, the greater the fun.
Christmas Day is celebrated
quietly, with all of the parties having been a part of the Saint
Nicholas Eve celebrations. Christmas morning is devoted to church
and the afternoon is spent with family. The day after Christmas
is called the Second Christmas and it is spent taking part in musicals
in churches, concert halls and auditoriums.