Europe’s Santa Claus

A long time ago, a bishop named Nicholas lived in what is now the country of Turkey.   No one knows much about him.  But there are stories that he often helped out children who were in need.

Many years after his death, Nicholas was made a saint.  In time, he became the patron saint of children.  Today, the date of his death, December 6, is an important holiday in some countires in Europe.  On the night before, children put out their shoes or hang up their stockings.  Early next morning, they rush to see what gifts Saint Nicholas left them.

Saint Nicholas visits towns and cities, leads parades, talks to children, and often hands out small gifts.  He is dressed as a bishop, of course, wearing a red or white robe and tall, pointed hat.

Saint Nicholas always has a helper.  In the Netherlands, this helper is called Black Peter.  In Germany, he’s Knect Ruprecht.  In parts of France he’s Père Fouettard. And in Luxembourg he’s known as Hoesecker.

Of course, all the children love Saint Nicholas.  But they’re quite afraid of his helper.  For it is the helper who keeps track of who was good and who was naughty.  Naughty children may only get switches, with which their parents can spank them!  They may even be carried away in the helper’s bag until they learn to be good!

Dutch settlers in America continued to celebrate this feast day.  Their name for Saint Nicholas was Sinterklaas.  And in English, this became Santa Claus.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.  ~ Burton Hillis