This post is part of December’s Blogging Carnival! It’s being hosted by Tales from Windmill Fields.
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Help!! How do we combine the holiday traditions of Sinterklaas (Dutch), Nikolaus (German), and Santa Claus (American)??? Not to mention the other Christmas traditions of each country, too! Aleksander is still a little young for these things, but it’s about time we figure out how we’re going to celebrate them … and how to explain them all to him! My first task, I think, is to make sure I understand the Dutch and German traditions. So here’s what I’ve learned so far….
Sinterklaas lives in Spain and travels to the Netherlands by boat in mid-November. He brings along his gray horse and a whole lot of helpers, known as Zwarte Pieten (black Peters). Any time after Sinterklaas arrives, the children can put out their shoes at night to be filled with things such as chocolate coins or little presents. (Of course, the parents have to agree on the night – often a weekend – and they only do it once.) All the Pieten have specialties, such as shopping, wrapping, and writing poems. On the evening of December 5th, a Piet rings your doorbell, leaves the presents, and then runs away. Sometimes he leaves a note instead telling where the presents are – maybe in the attic or on the balcony. Poems often accompany the presents.
Later, when the children are much older, they make special presents known as surprises. They tend to be very creative and somewhat elaborate. Sometimes the gifts can even be teasing the recipient. PER once made one for a friend that was a miniature house (since his friend had just moved) and inside the tiny mailbox was a little envelope with a note saying that he was giving his friend a gift of money for his new home. So the house was both a present as well as the package to deliver the gift. The surprise is usually accompanied by a poem written for the recipient.
Nikolaus generally visits German children on the evening of December 5th while the children are sleeping (in some regions it is December 6th). Children leave their shoes or a bowl outside their door (it could also be the bedroom door). When they awake the next morning, they find mandarins, nuts, chocolates, or little surprises left for them in their shoes by Nikolaus. However, Nikolaus is also accompanied by Krampus (southern Germany and Austria) or Knecht Ruprecht (other parts of Germany). If the children have been naughty, he leaves eine Rute (switch) in their shoes instead! Tradition also states that Krampus/Ruprecht would put naughty children in his sack and carry them away. He may even eat them!!
Santa Claus arrives on the eve of December 24th. He lives at the North Pole, where he and his elves make toys in his workshop for the children. Children write letters to Santa Claus, telling him what they would like to receive on Christmas morning. Santa Claus keeps a list of all children, noting which ones have been naughty and which ones have been nice. On Christmas Eve he travels by sleigh with his 8 reindeer and goes down the chimney to leave presents for good children under the tree and in their stockings. If the children have been naughty, they get a piece of coal in their stockings instead.
When I was growing up, we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning, we would open our presents from Santa Claus. My parents also did an extremely clever thing by putting a small tree in each of our rooms. It was fun to have our own little trees to decorate. But the best part (for my parents) was that Santa would leave a present or two under each of our trees as well. So Christmas morning, when we woke up very early, we could open those presents and play quietly with them in our rooms while our parents got to sleep until a normal hour! Brilliant!!
All three figures have similar appearances: they have a white beard and wear a red coat and hat – – –
Sinterklaas & Zwarte Pieten
Okay, so how do we blend these similar – yet different – traditions and explain them in a way that makes sense to our kids??? I mean, how many times are they supposed to leave their shoes out? And just how many presents are they supposed to get?!
I really like the idea of the suprises and the poems that accompany Sinterklaas. So maybe do that on December 5th. Then that night the kids can leave out their shoes to be filled by Nikolaus, waking up on December 6th was a few treats. Then we’ll exchange family gifts on Decemeber 24th and open gifts from Santa Claus on December 25th. That really spreads out the gift-giving! Which is actually not a bad idea, especially while the children are young. I know Aleksander can’t take too many presents at once – he doesn’t know what to do with them all! After his birthday party last month, I put at least half the toys in the closet to take out at later times, so they’re like “new” all over again.
The next challenge is dealing with all the feasting and other traditions that go with the various regional holidays. But I think that will have to wait for another post….
I know different regions have different takes on Sinterklaas/Nikolaus/Santa Claus. And the traditions even vary from family to family. But if I’ve gotten anything wrong or forgotten about something, please let me know! I’d love to hear about other traditions, too!
And if anyone has any suggestions on ways to fluidly blend various holiday traditions, I’d be grateful for some advice!!