He has many names, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and simply Santa. Whatever name you call him, this magical being came from the Dutch character Sinterklaas. He wears a long red cape over his white bishop’s robe and a red mitre hat and comes riding his gray horse named Amerigo. Sinterklass and his horse arrive in the Netherlands in mid November on a boat from Spain, usually bringing mandarin oranges. The feast of Saint Nickolas is celebrated on December 6th as it is the Name Day of the Saint Nicholas. Many European countries and some in Latin America celebrate Name Days on a specific day of the year that coordinates with a person’s given name. This first began, as Catholic believers who were named after a particular Saint celebrated that Saints Feast Day. For Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of children and sailors, Feast Day is December 6th, thus the arrival of Sinterklass in the Netherlands on that day.
In early times, this Feast was an opportunity to help those in poverty and money was left in the shoes of the poor. Later this tradition of giving changed from giving money to giving presents, which were left in many of the children’s shoes, rich and poor. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas Eve, December 5, is a main gift giving day of the season and before going to bed, children leave hay and a carrot in their shoe for Amerigo; when they awake the next morning, they find candy and a small gift in their shoes.
Traditional Sinterklaas treats include: hot chocolate, mandarin oranges, chocolate coins and chocolate filled pastries branded with the first letter of the child’s name - written in chocolate.
During World War II, in the difficult times of the German occupation of the Netherlands, Sinterklass came to cheer up the entire country, not just the children. In 1941, the Royal Air Force dropped boxes of candy over the occupied Netherlands from Sinterklass to lighten the hearts of those oppressed with the war during the holiday season.