Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Christmas In Belgium

It's early, I know, but I'm all aquiver about celebrating my first serious Christmas in two years. Christmas things are beginning to be talked about here, and there are things I needed to learn about the Belgian celebrations.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the family will gather and feast on December 25, with gifts for the adults however, the children receive their gifts from St Nicholas (or Sint Nikolaas) on December 6, and he is assisted in the delivery by Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet which is the Dutch name for the Moorish helper who travels with St. Nicholas).

The festivities really begin in November, with St Nicholas and his helpers checking up on the children who come to see him, by looking in his big book of information that tells him which children have been good and done their best through the year. They call this the Sinterklaas season and it's really a children's festival, with December 6 being childrens day.

On the evening of December 5th, the children put their shoes or small baskets on the hearth or beside the door, with carrots, turnips and a sugar lump for St Nicholaas' horse, believing that he rides over the rooftops, dropping his gifts down the chimneys - or that he leads a donkey laden with baskets full of treats and toys for children.

In the morning, they find that their shoes have been filled with Speculoos cookies (Dutch spiced cookies, often made in the shape of Sinterklaas and Piet, traditionally served on St. Nicholas Day), oranges, marzipan and toys. The treats are meant to be shared and not hoarded. Bad children, of which there are none, would find twigs instead of gifts.

However, this is only one version ... another version emerges from Turkey ... read on:

Saint Nicholas wasthe Bishop of Myra. His feast Day is celebrated onDecember 6, and he is the patron of: seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers, jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, robbers and especially - children.
The character of Santa Claus is copied from the life of a real person, a saint named Saint Nicholas. The name 'Saint Nicholas' even sounds like 'San-ta claus,' especially in the Dutch language. The Dutch veneration of 'Sinter Klaus' was brought to North America with the Dutch settlers and eventually became the story of Santa Claus that everyone knows.
Saint Nicholas, like St. Wenceslaus and St. Lucy, was a saint. He was the bishop of a city named Myra in Turkey in the early part of the 4thcentury. His feast day is December 6th because he died on December 6 or 7 in the middle of the fourth century. Feast days celebrate the entry of the saint's soul into Heaven.

The most famous story told about St. Nicholas has to do with three young sisters who were very poor. Their parents were so poor that they did not have enough money for the daughters to get married. Every young girl needed money to pay for the wedding and to set up house for themselves. Nicholas heard about this family and wanted to help them, but he did not want anyone to know that he was the one who was helping them.

The story is told in a few different ways. In one version, he climbed up on their roof three nights in a row and threw gold coins down their chimney so that they would land in the girls' stockings, which had been hung by the fire to dry. After two of his daughters had been able to marry because of the money mysteriously appearing in their stockings, the father was determined to find out who was helping them, so he hid behind the chimney the next night. Along came Bishop Nicholas with another bag of money. When he was discovered, he asked the father not to tell anyone else, but the father wanted everyone to know what a good and generous man the Bishop Nicholas was, so he told everyone he knew. That is how we have the story and the tradition of stocking full of gifts today.

If you want to read more, I will leave you with this The detail is fascinating, and quite unlike the stories I heard about Christmas back in New Zealand.

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