November 6, 2011

Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas Day)

nvph 759 - sinterklaas_bewerkt-1

I know it’s early for a Christmas post, but I wanted to share a family tradition that we adopted a few years ago that has made a wonderful difference in our Christmas celebrations.  I am posting this now, so that if you happen to want to start this tradition, you will have time to get ready.  Though I am not saying in any way that anyone “should” adopt this tradition, I want to share it because it is something our family has absolutely loved.


I LOVE family history!  One year I decided to research the Christmas traditions of all the known countries that our ancestors came from, with the intent to make some of their traditions a part of our own family celebrations.  One of the traditions I found was from the Netherlands.  It’s called Sinterklaas (or St. Nicholas Day).  On the night of December 5th, they have a big party and the children put their shoes out on the doorstep for Sinterklaas to fill with goodies.  There are several other European countries who celebrate St. Nicholas Day as well.

My husband and I have always had a gnawing discomfort with the whole Santa Claus stockings thing on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and have wished that there was a way to separate the secular from the spiritual.  As I read about the tradition of Sinterklaas, a light bulb went off in my head.  What if we put our stockings out for St. Nicholas on the 5th of December instead of the 24th?  I could think of all kinds of advantages to this arrangement, the most important being a greater focus on Christ on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  But would my family go for it?

After talking to my husband, we decided to be brave and take the plunge.  My oldest was 8 yrs old at the time.  We explained to the kids about the tradition of Sinterklaas, and how our ancestors who came from the Netherlands celebrated the day.  The children were excited about getting to do their stockings earlier than normal and thought it would be “cool” to change our tradition to be like that of our ancestors. 

So we carried out our plan for the 5th of December, taking the elements of the Sinterklaas tradition that would work for our family.  On the appointed night, we made cookies and had hot chocolate while we talked about why St. Nicholas day is celebrated, how he was someone who was kind and generous to children, and that he was a Christian who tried his best to follow Christ.  (There are many online resources with stories and pictures of St. Nicholas, of course most of them are probably legend and not fact, but we talked with the kids about that too.)  With the usual excitement, they laid out their stockings and went to bed.  In the morning they were delighted to find their stockings full and we had a fun breakfast together (my husband went into work late).  We did get a few questions from our kids throughout the month, about Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve, and we just explained that he had already come on St. Nicholas Day.

We continued with our other usual traditions throughout December, and on Christmas Eve we had our big dinner and Nativity program with extended family.  We got home late at night, as always, so half of the kids fell asleep in the car on the way.  We just quietly went to bed, and in the morning started with our traditional breakfast and then excitedly opened presents together around the tree while listening to our Christmas carols.  The kids didn’t miss the stockings, and it felt so good to focus more on Christ and family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!  Success!!!

I am a firm believer that family traditions should have a purpose: to increase family unity or bring us closer to the Lord.  I feel that if a current tradition isn’t meeting the goals we have for our family, then we must summon the courage to change it.  It’s okay to be different and go against the norm, since traditions help to create our own unique family identity.

Changing the day that we put out our stockings, allowing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be more focused on Christ and family, has truly enriched our celebration of Christmas!  And it has been great fun to celebrate a tradition that is connected to our family history.


 Click here to find a recipe for Speculaas, a popular Dutch spice cookie that’s perfect for Sinterklaas celebrations.

 Marcina and her husband, Aaron, have five children with another due in November. This is her third year of homeschooling and she is grateful for the opportunity to teach her children at home. It continues to be both a challenge and a delight! In her spare moments she enjoys family history, gardening, reading, singing, listening to beautiful music, and learning new things.

5 comments - Add a comment below -:

Sue Smith said...

What a wonderful tradition! Thank you for sharing :)

Jana said...

We are Dutch too! Hooray for Dutch Christmas. :) We have adopted (and adapted) some of these traditions in our family as well. Our favorite Dutch treat is to have bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles. mmmm

Mama Rachel said...

I love what you said about having the courage to change traditions if they are no longer helping the family. It's so true! Traditions are meant to strengthen the desired family culture, not take away from it. :-)

Dana ♥ said...

Thanks for sharing such a neat idea!

Our family doesn't do the Easter Bunny and haven't for years. The children don't even know they are missing anything.

It does take courage to break from a tradition that doesn't benefit your family doesn't it?

Mrs.Smith said...

I've been pondering this very thing! Man, I love your idea. It clicks really well, too, with the way we are turning Halloween into a Family History month in Smithtopia.

(In other countries Halloween is a "Day of the Dead" and is a day to revere ancestors.)

Thanks for a great post. :)