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St. Nicholas Day

Celebrated every year on December 5 or 6.

Saint Nicholas is one of the many legends that Santa Claus is based on.
For as long humans can remember there are holidays with lights, feasts and gift giving around the midwinter time.
In many regions there are one or more mysterious givers of gifts.
Saint Nicholas became one of them because of his generous and caring reputation.

Santa Claus inherited from Saint Nicholas his name, kind and generous reputation, entering the house through the chimney, filling stockings or shoes and the red and white in his clothing.
In many other aspects Saint Nicholas is a legend on his own that is still celebrated in parts of West Europe.
In West Europe Saint Nicholas is the one giving the presents and often even giving little treats in the days before the day of the big presents.
This is why Dutch children put their shoe out with a treat for Saint Nicholas his horse,  to find a little present in the form of candy or a small toy inside in the morning.

“Pieter me knecht”

Lately there is a lot of controversy around Saint Nicholas having “Black Pete’s” as helpers.
Because Black Pete is often a white person wearing black makeup.
Having slaves however does not not fit with the reputation of Saint Nicholas.
The Saint however frowned upon oppressing other people.
There are even several stories of Saint Nicholas helping black people and punishing those who harass them.
Another confusing aspect is the clothing of Black Pete actually being that of Moroccan nobles of that time.
There is a lot lost in forgotten history.

The first appearance of Black Pete is in a writing of Jozef Alberdingk Thijm in 1812 where Saint Nicholas refers to a black helper with the words “Pieter me knecht”.
Though this roughly translates to “Pete my servant” it needs mentioning that the Dutch word “knecht” specifically means a servant who is paid.
This fits the backstory of Saint Nicholas, as he would never accept people as slaves, but would help those who have trouble in live.
As this was in a time when black slaves were held, there are stories where Saint Nicholas bought slaves who were mistreated and then would set them free.
Some of those former slaves stayed with the saint out of gratitude and were paid wages for helping Saint Nicholas to do even more good works.

If we don’t refresh our memories often enough,
then traditions get distorted, beautiful old tales are forgotten and eventually replaced with something more modern.
Thus, Saint Nicholas will get different helpers again, as has happened several times before…

In many regions of Europe Saint Nicholas has witches and demons as helpers.
One of those helpers that is rising in popularity is Krampus.
Krampus has many similar origins with the more Eastern European perchten.

December 6 is actually the day he died.
But the appearances of Saint Nicolas when he arrives in his steamboat and all the times he appears on tv or visits shopping malls and schools prove he is very much alive still.

“Still, let’s not forget it’s St. Nicholas Day,
Though we’ve nothing left to give away.
We’ll have to find something else to do:
So everyone please look in their shoe!?”
— Anne Frank

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