"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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Dutch flag Prettige Kerstdagen
Dutch tree
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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 gifts—the Dutch call them surprises—rather 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.