Dates for assembly: December 6 Feast of St Nicholas

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Customs associated with this 3rd-century bishop and benefactor, who lived in what is now Turkey, gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus

Outline script for assembly leaders

Dutch children believe that St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as they nickname him, lives in Spain. They also believe that each year in the early days of December he and his friend, commonly called Black Peter, visit the Netherlands.

This tradition is acted out on his feast day in Amsterdam and in other places in the Netherlands. St Nicholas arrives, wearing a bishop's cope and mitre, sporting a white beard and white gloves. Seated on a white horse, he rides round the city with Peter walking at his side. People cheer, church bells ring and a band leads his procession with policemen on motorbikes as outriders.

At night, Dutch children leave a shoe filled with hay, a carrot and bread outside their bedroom door for St Nicholas's horse. They believe the saint will visit every child who has been good during the year and leave a present in the shoe.

When Dutch people emigrated to America in the 19th century, they settled in what was originally called New Amsterdam, but is now New York. They maintained the custom and St Nicholas in his red bishop's robes and with his white beard went around the city distributing presents. When other New Yorkers heard the Dutch immigrants calling him Sinterklaas, they thought they were saying "Santa Claus". An American poet Clement Clarke Moore embroidered the event: "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the houseNot a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.The stockings were hung by the chimney with careIn hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

From this developed the legend of Santa Claus, later exported back to Europe, as the modern Father Christmas story.

Follow-up

Create a "spot the difference" poster, showing St Nicholas and Santa Claus.

Explore ways the shoe custom can be adopted to any end-of-term card or present swap.

A wealth of cross-curricular activities, as well as stories and legends, can be found on www.stnicholascenter.orgBrix?pageID=23. Click on "How to Celebrate" and on "For Kids".

A collection of traditional St Nicholas songs (in English and Dutch) is at www.rootsinholland.comsintlied.htm

DAVID SELF

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