Today is St Nicholas’ Feast day and it is also my Name Day. In Greek culture, one’s name day is personally equally important to one’s birthday celebration. While all of one’s friends and acquaintances may not be aware of the date of one’s birthday, there is no excuse for neglecting one’s Name Day as the date is widely known by everyone. Traditionally one has an open house” for all well-wishers who visit and are treated with sweets and cakes, while they wish one a Happy Name Day and generally bring one more sweets and/or flowers. If they are on more intimate terms they usually bring presents too.
In Northern Europe St. Nicholas’ Day is a big occasion. Traditional celebrations included gifts left in children’s shoes (from which English Christmas stockings developed). Good children receive treats: Sweets, biscuits, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive lumps of coal. In Germany, children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, and hope to find sweets, coins and maybe a small gift in them on December 6. In The Netherlands, children put their shoes in front of their chimneys in hopes of finding chocolate or a small toy in their shoe when they wake.
For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents! Although St. Nicholas' day is on the 6th December, in Holland, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas. On the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day, Sinterklaas travels to every city or town in The Netherlands, wearing his red bishop’s robes. He travels with his servants called “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Peters). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas then leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. When he visits Amsterdam, he meets the Royal Family in the Palace.
On December, 5th children leave clogs or shoes out, by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill, and sing Sinterklaas songs. They hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse, they will be left some sweets. They’re told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a Zwarte Piet will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/or candy in their shoes.
Children are also told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave! Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid, Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him. Every town in Holland has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out.
To celebrate, here is Joseph Haydn’s “Missa Sancti Nicolai” (Mass no. 6 in G major, Hob XXII:6, also known as the “Nicolaimesse” or St Nicholas’ Mass). This is a mass by Joseph Haydn, composed around 1772 and revised in 1802. The work is scored for SATB soloists and choir, two oboes, two horns, strings, and organ. The revision added trumpets and timpani. It is believed to have been composed for a celebration on St Nicholas’s Day.
Missa Sancti Nicolai in G major “Nikolaimesse”, H. 22/6
5 Agnus Dei