Intro to Linda's Column
Every year around midday on the 5th of December trams are packed, traffic jams become national and stressed citizens fill the malls. Dutch madness in high tide, right up to 18.00 o’clock. Then the wind howls a lonely song in the dark. There is no one left in the streets of Holland for her to play with.
All the Dutch stay indoors in honour of a certain slim, tall figure. An old man with a white beard and a heavy red cape that covers a white slip. He carries a huge golden cane in a white gloved hand while the other usually secures his red mitre. On the evening of the 5th of December this man celebrates his birthday (which many claim is actually on the 6th). Instead of getting presents himself, he only gives presents to others. He rides the roofs on his stallion and his side-kicks the ‘Pieten’ shuff these presents down the chimney. This occupation provides them with their famous black soot look. You don’t have a chimney? No worries, leave a shoe in front of the radiator and he will find you. At night the adults give each other presents. These are accompanied with catchy, personalized poems and wrapped in humorous forms relating to certain characteristics of the receiver.
Historically Saint Nicolaas is based on a young man, born in 270, who used his inherited family fortune to keep poor girls out of prostitution. People would mysteriously find bags of gold, that had landed when tossed through the window, in their shoes or socks that were set to dry in front of the fire. One story says he died an average man, on the 6th of December 340. (We Dutch celebrate his birthday, but in fact it was his last living day! ) In this version it is not till later when the Christians used his legacy to baptize a young bishop: Sint Nicolaas, safe keeper of all children. Saint was only put in front of this name after the declaration of this bishop to wholly man. Other stories say it was Nicolaas himself who got baptized a Saint. One thing is for sure: This young bishop had the Christian task to rule out the popular pagan god Wodan. Wodan flew around on a white horse, had a long beard and carried a spear. He had two black ravens as side kicks who collected information for him on the mortals. It was Wodan’s Godly job to check, at the end of each year, if people had behaved proper. It was obvious to the Christians that to beat this God, Saint Nicolaas had to be pimped. Thus he gained a white horse, a cane and the job to check people on their Christian virtues. Bishop Saint Nicolaas however realized this generosity thing was a bloody big job. He needed a sidekick. And so he asked several Moors to be his bogeyman in case of bad behaving children. A tradition was born. Much later, Coca Cola mixed both Wodan and Sint Nicolaas together and created a third character: Santa Claus. This man is mainly active in America but has since become known all around the world. He never really made it in the Netherlands though. After some national doubts, we decided against Santa and in favour of good old Saint Nicolaas. There is a bit of irony when you consider that of all people especially the Dutch publicly cherish his traditions the most. Imagine Saint Nicolaas going Dutch! Maybe that is why we like him so much, it gives us an excuse to only be generous one day a year…