In the United Kingdom, The most significant day in December for most children in the Netherlands is December 5th, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) delivers them their presents!
Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) is a Dutch saint who was born on 6 December 350 in the city of Lycopolis, now known as Novgorod, Russia. His father was a wealthy merchant who traveled with his trade caravans to different parts of Europe. When he was age ten, Nickolas' parents died when they were attacked by robbers while they were traveling home from a wedding. Since then, he has been taking care of his elderly aunt and uncle. He felt called to become a priest and at the age of 24, he left his family and friends to travel across Europe seeking opportunities to serve God in church jobs.
When he reached Europe's west coast, he decided to move east because he had heard that there were many holy people living in what is now Russia. He stayed for several years in a monastery near Kiev before heading south to meet up with his relatives in The Netherlands. They told him that three years had passed since he had gone missing so he knew that someone must have taken care of him while he was away.
Nickolas later became famous for bringing gifts to the poor.
The feast is observed yearly with the exchange of presents on St. Nicholas' Eve (5 December) in the Netherlands and on Saint Nicholas Day (6 December) in Belgium, Luxembourg, and northern France (French Flanders, Lorraine, and Artois).
In Switzerland, the feast is known as Nikolausstag. In Germany, it is called Nikolaustag. In Austria, it is called Nikolausstein.
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the festival too. It is called "Dionysia".
Dionysius was a 4th-century Arian bishop of Alexandria who is considered a saint by some Eastern Orthodox Christians. They believe him to be one of their saints and he is often referred to as "Dionysius the Great."
Their version of Sinterklaas is called "Klaroh" or "Klaro" and he brings gifts to children on his journey through the villages. He is accompanied by a group of devils named "Podnistas" who help him deliver the gifts.
Other countries where the feast is celebrated include America, Australia, Israel, and Italy. There are also large Dutch communities in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
5th of December The festival is observed on December 5th, when presents are exchanged. Children shout Sinterklaas songs at the top of their voices until they hear a knock on the door. If they've been good, they'll discover a gift-filled bag right outside the door. If not, then they'll have to wait until next year.
Sinterklaas was originally a pagan holiday that became Christianized. He replaced the original god of thunder, Jupiter, who was associated with marriage and fertility. Previous dates for his arrival were also used, such as November 11th and 24th. The current date was established in the 16th century by Charles V, who wanted to make a saint out of St Nicholas because he was bored with the usual saints' days and needed a new one of his own creation. Sinterklaas was given the day after Christmas because many people didn't like Christmas itself so adding another day of celebration seemed reasonable.
There are several theories about where Sinterklaas comes from. Some say he's Dutch while others claim French or German ancestry. What we do know for sure is that he was born in the 13th century in Holland into a wealthy family. His parents had died, leaving him with no inheritance, so he decided to travel around Europe looking for work as a stowaway. He ended up in Belgium where he met Saint Nicholas who invited him to come live with him in Turkey.
In much of Europe, December 6th remains the most important day for gift-giving. Candies, chocolates, tiny presents, and riddles are thrown through the door in the Netherlands. Children in the Netherlands place carrots and hay in their shoes for St. Nick's horse, expecting that it would be traded for gifts. In Germany, children write letters to St. Nicholas asking for gifts. He then sends them through the mail.
In Spain, children hang stockings by the fireplace or put them under the Christmas tree. They leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus before going to bed. On December 5th, they make a list of what they want for Christmas and try to find everything on the list under the tree the next morning. If they haven't found all the items on the list, they may ask their parents if they can keep looking at night when they go to sleep.
In Italy, children leave cookies and wine for St. Nicholas after praying with their family at night before going to bed. On December 5th, they make a list of what they want for Christmas and bring it along to church with them the next morning. After Mass, they search for everything on the list under the tree or in a special box placed outside the church. If they haven't found all the items on the list, they may ask their parents if they can look again later.