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Annual visitor Sinterklaas makes his rounds again through Dutch cities, towns and villages

After commuters rush home, traffic volume drops hugely on evening of December 5

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

There are very few legendary figures in the Netherlands who are as broadly recognized as is St. Nicolaas, by Dutch children also widely known as Sinterklaas. In the Dutch experience, it is very obvious that his presence in the country kicks off the most widely celebrated events.

Foreigners whose visit to the Netherlands coincides with the one by Sinterklaas are usually less intrigued with the appearance of the Spaniard than with the Dutch who frequently go from being level-headed to very exuberant at the mere sight of the visitor and his helpers.

Sinterklaas remains an experience for young and old in the Netherlands, and increasingly so, it seems. In pre-WWII days, when the Dutch heard about Sinterklaas on the news if they had a radio, celebrations were mostly focusing on children. The (wooden)shoe, holding a bit of hay and a big carrot, would be put near the chimney. Early on the morning of December 6, they would find some cookies and candies, perhaps their ‘letter’ as well, at times accompanied by Sinterklaas’ poem admonishing the recipients to go for better marks, to be less naughty and to be more eager to do the chores.

The understanding of Sint Nicolaas in earlier ages had a strong religious context, which still can be observed in the names of many church buildings. Even though a building may have been given a ‘new’ name in the 1600s, for example, Grote Kerk, many carry a dual name, such as Grote of St. Nicolaaskerk of which are or were over 130. The exact number of them may well be higher since collecting and cataloging was a voluntary effort.

Going back in medieval times, towns and villages usually adopted a patron saint. St Nicolaas was, at least in Friesland, a very popular choice. Even places without a seafaring heritage settled on him, St. Maarten also being popular.

St. Nicolaas is the patron of the following towns and villages: Friesland: Blesdijke, Blija, Cornjum, Firdgum, Grauw, Hantum, Harkema, Hemelum, Herbaijum,Huins, Midlum, Nijeholtpade, Oosterwierum, Oost-Vlieland, St. Nicolaasga and Wiewerd; Drenthe: Dwingeloo; Gelderland: Ellercom and Oosterwolde; Groningen: Haren and Onstwedde; Limburg: Broekhuizen; Noord Brabant: Valkenswaard; Noord Holland: Amsterdam and Edam; Overijssel: Denekamp, Kampen and Zalk, and Zuid Holland: Zoetermeer.

Absent from the list are places in the provinces of Flevoland, Utrecht and Zeeland. This may be due to incomplete research.

In adjoining Belgium, other saints fared better than did St Nicolaas, the following places chose St Nicolaas however: Oost Vlaanderen: Buggenhout, Sint-Niklaas and Waterland-Oudeman; West Vlaanderen: Diksmuide, Ieper, Keiem, Koolkerke, Leke, Oostduinkerke, Pervijze, Rekkum and Slijpe.

A two-page full-colour pictorial feature accompanied this Sinterklaas experience article. If interested (and while supplies last), readers may request a copy of this November 23, 2011 issue of the Windmill Herald.