As my Dutch neighbor enlightened us from the other side of the booth about Christmas traditions in his native country, I couldn’t help but wonder how many Americans could tell you about “Black Friday,” but not that St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in (what is now) Turkey, as he did. Far be it from me to preach about the state of Christmas — I encouraged the four of us to patronize a pub that night as our backup plan when the “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party” on our street got cancelled — but mix some hops and history together and the mind tends to get contemplative.
Most Americans know the Dutch tradition of children at night setting out their wooden shoes to be filled with toys and candy by “Sinterklaas.” Did you know though that the festive focus is on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 5th) and that the kind-hearted bishop supposedly arrives by steamboat from Spain in late November?
As the story goes, St. Nicholas’ Moor helpers called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) relay the gifts down the chimneys to the kiddy receptacles. (Our neighbor, whose American wife is with child, noted the non-PC aspect of the Sinterklaas assistant tradition). Far surpassing the threat of coal in one’s stocking, the myth holds that, if children have been naughty, the Zwarte Pieten put all the offending youngsters in sacks and Sinterklaas takes them back to Spain. Hmm, maybe the makers of Elf on a Shelf should start offering accessories — totes for tots?!?
Here’s hoping your holiday is full of love, laughter, learning and meaning beyond the retail tale of Christmas!