Thursday, 30 November 2017

Books for children on the feast of St Nicholas

For those who are not aware of it, the popular Christmas figure of Santa Claus is based on the historical figure of St Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra, which is in present day Turkey. The real St Nicholas apparently lived from AD 270-323 and in many European countries, the feast of St Nicholas is celebrated on either 5 or 6 December and is very much a children's festival.  

 But who was St Nicholas? It seems that no one really knows much about him except that he loved children and legend has it he brought three little boys back to life after they had been killed. It is also said that he is the patron saint of unmarried girls after endowing three very poor young ladies with enough money to marry the men of their dreams. However, how he came to be canonised is unknown. What is also unknown is why he is always depicted as having come from Spain and why he rides a white horse. Nevertheless, by the 11th century, he was not only the patron saint of children and single girls, but also of sailors and Amsterdam; hence the very special connection to the Netherlands.   

 These days, the feast of Sinterklaas on 5 December is probably more important in the Netherlands than Christmas, but it is also very popular in Belgium, northern Germany, Luxembourg and northern France. It is the day children by tradition receive gifts from St Nicholas and his helpers if they have been good and various degrees of punishment if they've been naughty. The nature and the amount of the punishment seems to vary depending on where he is. He generally arrives from Spain by boat around 20 November and from then on, proceeds around the participating countries until 5 or 6 December when he dispenses his gifts. The celebration is accompanied by many family activities, such as writing verses for each family member, eating together and playing games.   

 Incidentally, the tradition of Sinterklaas is also continued in the United States in Hudson Valley, an area originally settled by Dutch immigrants. It is through the combining of St Nicholas and the British Father Christmas that the American Santa Claus and his reindeer came into being. Now isn't that fascinating?  

 So now you have learned about how special an occasion St Nicholas/Sinterklaas is for children, why not think about celebrating it too by giving your young things a special Sinterklaas festival book? At Sunpenny, we have a lovely selection of children's fiction, so click on the titles below and reward your children for just being themselves with a beautiful and unusual book!  

The Skipper's Child
Sophie Topfeather

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