The Real St. Nick: An Interview

(Photo by Sarah Komisky)

The Real Saint Nick: An Interview

By Jehn Kubiak

Elizabeth Groenewold attends Providence Christian College and pursues a liberal studies major with concentrations in music and elementary education. She grew up in San Diego, but originally lived in the Netherlands. In this interview, she explains the story of the original Saint Nick and how the Dutch celebrate Christmas.

Jehn:  Where did you grow up?

Elizabeth: I grew up in Delft––the Netherlands.

Jehn: What Christmas traditions did your family celebrate?

Elizabeth: We didn’t celebrate Santa or open presents on Christmas, but we celebrated Jesus’ birthday and ate a lot of good food. Instead of getting presents from Santa on Christmas Day, we would get presents from Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas in December.

Jehn: What is the story of the original Saint Nick?

Elizabeth: Sinterklaas is known as a tall man with a long white beard who gives kids presents on his birthday. Just like Santa, he had a book with names of the good and the bad children. I’m not really quite sure what his original story was, just that he was a bishop.

Jehn: Did you learn about Santa Claus growing up as well?

Elizabeth: I didn’t hear about Santa Claus until I moved to America.

Jehn: What differences do you notice between the Netherlands and the U.S., in terms of Christmas celebrations?

Elizabeth: The differences are that the characters are different––Saint Nick vs Santa, black pieters vs elves. They were black because they went through the chimneys to drop off the presents. He rides a horse vs. reindeers. There is also a different date of celebration, and Christmas is left for religious purposes. The thing that people look forward to in celebrating Christmas is mostly the good food.

Jehn: What kinds of presents do you usually receive?

Elizabeth: Besides the regular toys, most people get sinterklaas themed candies. There is the chocolate letter––everyone gets a chocolate in the shape of the first letter of their name––they get speculoos cookies, pepernoten (small gingery cookies) and a couple more.

Jehn: What is the significance of the wooden shoes?

Elizabeth: Wooden shoes are shoes that Dutch people used to wear in the past––I think it was a farmer thing––but everyone used to wear them. I’m not sure if they’re specifically related to Saint Nick.

Jehn: How do you currently celebrate Christmas?

Elizabeth: Currently, we celebrate both American and Dutch Christmas traditions. On the 5th, we celebrate Sinterklaas and open presents, and on Christmas we open presents too. So instead of opening all the presents on one day, we split them up. Sometimes we meet up with other Dutch people and celebrate Sinterklaas.