The Legend of Sinterklaas
Mid-November marks the start of the Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas season in the Netherlands. It begins with preparations for the parade on the last Sunday in November. Sinterklaas, with his white horse, and helper Zwarte Piet arrive by boat and lead a merry parade throughout the town.
The feast day of Sinterklaas is December 6th. This is a time for exchanging gifts and making good-natured fun of each other. The eve of his feast day, December 5th is celebrated nationwide by young and old. Most places of business close a bit earlier than normal. The Dutch head home to a table laden with traditional sweets and baked goods.
Chocolate letters are used to decorate each place setting - usually the first initial of each person. They share the table with large gingerbread (Tai Tai) men and women. Early in the evening sweets are eaten while those gathered take turns unwrapping their gifts.
Traditionally this is the evening that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet ride across the rooftops of Holland looking for and rewarding good children with small gifts and candies. In anticipation of the visit, children place carrots and oats for Sinterklaas and his white horse in their wooden shoes by the door.
The following morning, gifts from Sinterklaas, many with hilarious poems attached, are opened and the poems read aloud. A day of feasting follows. This tradition of a St. Nicholas celebration is credited with being the basis of our Santa Claus tradition here in the United States.
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