Who is that weird-looking guy on the horse, and what are those even weirder looking (hm, let’s use the word fellows) around him? That my dear friend is Sinterklaas and his black piets. Who is Sinterklaas, you might ask unless you’re really clever and have already made the connection? Sinterklaas is not his real name, he was called St. Nicholas, and the black piets were his servants. St. Nicholas visits Amsterdam every year. Actually, it’s not really him; he died a long, long time ago, but someone dresses up in costume and pretends to be him, much like Santa does in America. Santa is short for Santa Claus; the linguists among you must have put two and two together by now and are beginning to realize that Santa Claus is nothing more than corruption, a degeneration, a bastardization if you will, of the word Sinterklaas. God, I love writing! You get to play with all these words…
Ok, so who is Sinterklaas, and who is Santa Claus because? Although their names are derived from one another, their personalities are not. Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas as he was really called, was a bishop of the Catholic church, I say Catholic, but that isn’t really all that important as Catholicism was all there was in those days.
Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. He lived from 280 until 342. He is, besides the patron saint of children, also the patron saint of Amsterdam. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. Bari later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples because it was previously conquered in 1442 by Alfonso V of Aragon. The city thus became part of the Kingdom of Aragon and later to Spain until the eighteenth century. Because the remains of St. Nicholas were in Bari (then a Spanish city), it is this tradition that St. Nicholas comes from Spain. St. Nicholas is well known in Spain as the patron of sailors, so that’s why St. Nicholas comes to the Netherlands always in a steamboat. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
As for Santa?
Santa Claus, or “Santa”, is a figure in North American culture with legendary, mythological and folkloric aspects who developed from an amalgamation of Dutch Sinterklaas, English Father Christmas and other traditions of Christmas gift-bringers. Santa Claus is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. The figure developed in the 19th century from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, which, in turn, has part of its basis in hagiographical (what’s that?) tales concerning the historical figure of gift-giver Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots (images of him rarely have a beard with no moustache). This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children’s books and films. The North American depiction of Santa Claus as it developed in the 19th and 20th century, in turn, influenced the modern perceptions of Father Christmas, Sinterklaas and Saint Nicholas in European culture.
Did you read that? I mean, how could you not, it blinking and all that, Thomas Nast That was the culprit, he is the scoundrel responsible for all that Rudolph the red nose reindeer nonsense. He and Hollywood!
According to a tradition that can be traced to the 1820s, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, with many magical elves and at least eight or nine flying reindeer. Since the 20th century (popularized by the 1934 song Santa Claus Is Coming to Town), Santa Claus is also said to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behaviour (“naughty” or “nice”) and that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other gifts to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Back to Sinterklaas and his piets, he arrives somewhere around the 20th of November on a steamboat from Spain; he is welcomed by the general populace accompanied by their children, who are encouraged to believe in him. He rides the city’s roofs at night on his horse Amigo and drops presents down the chimney in eagerly awaiting shoes. Sounds familiar? On the 5th of December, his birthday, he goes all out and drops large bags of presents at either the front or back door, loudly banging on the door and throwing candy around inside the house. The next day he’s gone. Up in smoke, back to Spain. There is more, of course; there’s the good behaviour thing if you did well you get koek (cookies or cake), if you’re bad you get gart, (nobody knows what that is).
The Piets or in Dutch De zwarte pieten
The piets carry old fashioned brooms with which they can hit you. Of course, that never happens; they are really what they clean the chimney with when they climb down. The piets are very agile. They are usually white folk covered in shoe polish. With so many people of colour around these days, socialist parties are always so sensitive to the ethnic reaction thought we should get rid of them as they might offend some sectors of society. It turned out it doesn’t mean when asked; they replied they’ve got more important things to worry about.
So St. Nicholas, what is the real story?
Saint-Nicholas was born in 280 AD; he became the bishop of Myra and died in 342 at the ripe old age of 62. He lived in Turkey, not in Spain, and was known as a very generous man.
His bones were secretly transported to Italy when Muslims conquered the area seven hundred years after his death. The part of Italy they ended up at belonged to Philip the Second, King of Spain. Therefore some thought that it was the Iberian peninsula he originated from, but that is incorrect. He was Turkish; he was a Turk and never went to Spain. The story goes that St. Nicholas celebrated his birthday on December the sixth, which is also not correct; he died on December the sixth.