Saint Nicholas Day, as we know it, is the holiday that welcomes the festive winter spirit into our lives. It is a non-religious festivity that ironically celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra (present-day Turkey).

Everybody knows the main gist: Saint Nicholas, a wholesome, elderly man comes on the 6th of December while all the good children are asleep and stuffs their shoes with delicious treats or small presents.



But what if I told you that there is more to this tradition? That the holiday first begins in the middle of November by welcoming Saint Nicholas with a parade? A few days ago, while I was talking to my dear friend from Belgium, Noa Frederickx, he told me that Saint Nicholas Day is a staple in Belgian culture. Curious, I asked him what was so special about this festivity. Join me as we dive into the secret traditions of this holiday together!

This celebration originates from the Netherlands and Belgium and is called Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is an elderly man with white hair and a long, full beard, who wears a long red cape over a traditional white bishop’s alb and holds a gold-coloured staff with a fancy curled top.



At the beginning of November, Sinterklaas travels with his helpers from Spain by steamboat. The steamboat anchors, then Sinterklaas disembarks and parades through the streets on his horse, Amerigo, welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional songs.



His Zwarte Piet helpers throw candy and small, round, gingerbread-like cookies, called pepernoten, into the crowd. Zwarte Pieten traditionally have a chimney sweeper’s broom and are covered in black paint, resembling their blackened face with soot, as they must climb through chimneys to deliver gifts for Sinterklaas. In the weeks between his arrival and Saint Nicholas’ Eve on the 5th of December, Sinterklaas visits schools, hospitals, and shopping centers. He is said to ride his white horse over the rooftops at night, delivering gifts through the chimney to the well-behaved children, while naughty children risk being caught by Zwarte Piet and being punished.



Before going to bed, each child leaves a single shoe next to the fireplace. Inside the shoe, they hide notes, telling Sinterklaas what presents they want to get, as well as a carrot or some hay and a bowl of water nearby for Amerigo. The next day, kids find some candy or a small present in said shoes.



Typical Sinterklaas treats include mandarin oranges from Spain, pepernoten, a chocolate initial and marzipan figures. Newer treats include gingerbread biscuits and a figurine of Sinterklaas made of chocolate and wrapped in colored aluminium foil.

Although Sinterklaas is loved by many, while most children open their presents on the 6th of December, he departs without being noticed and all festivities are over until the next year when he will return without a doubt.