Both Santa Claus and the Dutch Sinterklaas derive from St. Nicholas, who was born in 271 A.D. in what is now part of the southern coast of Turkey. After becoming a priest and eventually the Archbishop of Myra, his benevolence was legendary, saving sailors, young children and penniless maidens. After his death, the cult of St. Nicholas spread rapidly through the Mediterranean and eventually to the Netherlands. He became the patron saint of many cities, including Amsterdam, where the legend of Sinterklaas began.
Sinterklaas is said to spend most of the year in Spain, using his big red book to record the behavior of all children. In November, Sinterklaas, his white horse, and his Zwarte Piet helpers board a steamship headed for the Netherlands. When he arrives, the mayor greets him and the whole country watches as they parade through town, marking the beginning of the Sinterklaas season. The Dutch honor St. Nicholas every year by exchanging gifts and making good-natured fun of each other through made-up songs and poems.
On December 5, the eve of his death, Sinterklaas and his helpers are said to visit all the homes in the Netherlands. They travel across the rooftops, listening at chimneys to check the behavior of children, who have left a carrot or some hay in their wooden shoes for Sinterklaas' horse. The children are told that if they have been good, Zwarte Piet will leave them presents; if they have been naughty, he will carry them away in his sack.
Because of its historical ties to the Netherlands, Holland Michigan continues the Sinterklaas tradition with a procession of its own on December 7. Families are invited to begin their evening at 6pm at the Holland Museum's Armory with snacks and crafts while they learn about the Legend of Sinterklaas. At 7pm, Sinterklaas parades through town on his white horse accompanied by his helpers and by singing children carrying traditional lighted lanterns. Mayor Kurt Dykstra will welcome Sinterklaas and together they will flip the switch lighting Holland's historic Centennial Park with a blanket of thousands of lights. After caroling, families are invited to visit Sinterklaas inside the Holland Museum across the street.
Sinterklaas will also visit the KerstMarkt, Holland's open-air Christmas Market in the style of European ChristKindlMarket, on Saturday December 8 from 2 to 3 pm.
"We're honored that Sinterklaas agrees every year to make the trip to America's Holland. He is a special visitor and we love for people to come and help us welcome him," commented Sally Laukitis, Executive Director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. We love the stories we hear every year about families who might have Dutch grandparents or themselves are from the Netherlands but living in Chicago or nearby who can continue their holiday tradition right here in the United States. They even bring their wooden shoes to put carrots and hay into! It's a wonderful way to enjoy a unique holiday tradition and weekend getaway all at the same time."
Other holiday highlights in Holland, Michigan include: holiday theatre and musical performances, a greens sale, Victorian Christmas teas, special exhibits, and, of course, Santa himself. For more information, including event times and locations, visit www.Holland.org. Don't forget to check out the calendar of events and the Deals and Discounts page to plan your weekend stay. For more information about St Nicholas, visit http://www.stnicholascenter.org