Somehow it is hard to avoid sentimental thoughts about holidays during these days. One of the funniest one for me is Saint Nicolas. For a very long time I thought it was a very Dutch custom, but then we moved to Slovenia. One of the first celebration we attended in our village, after the Prešeren poetry evening on the 3rd of December (funny fact, we only understood the word “dober” back then), was this one. Of course we didn’t know what to expect, but were surprised and we really appreciated the mulled wine to cope with this man in white that looked so much like his brother that we knew from the Netherlands.
Similar, but very different.
While in Slovenia Miklavz arrives, gives presents and leaves again, are the festivities in the Netherlands spread over several weeks. “Our guy” comes from Spain, wears red, travels by boat and arrives almost always around my birthday.
That might sound good, but in my youth it meant that I shouldn’t ask too much, as I already had presents for my birthday. Adults give each other also hidden presents, with a poem that puts all your bad habits in the spotlights, written by another guest. It is that time of the year where you can be just as rude as you want. Yeah.
The good part is all the food that is involved, especially cookies and candy. Sinterklaas, as he is called in Dutch, comes with marzipan, sugar goods, chocolate letters and “pepernoten”, which are small ginger cookies. Throwing around the last ones is one of the highlights and it seems the only time of the year where eating from the floor is encouraged.
Culinary wise it is also interesting. While cooking something special is more and more common, on the 5th of December the Dutch have a weird tradition. Cooking food at the dinner table on a gourmet set. Although I have to say this culinary highlight (so not!) is served on many occasions.
About the sweets. As you know the Dutch travelled around the world to collect spices. Some say they bought them, others that they stole them. Let’s say there are still some very rich families in the Netherlands who found their fortune in exotic locations…
The good part is that almost everything sweet served around the beginning of December is spiced with them. We bake “Speculaas” filled with marzipan, there is always a letter involved, either made out of chocolate, cheese, puffed pastry filled with an almond mixture or meringue. And although this Saint was a protector of children and his day especially for them, the party is a bit hijacked by adults in the Netherlands. And unfortunately not only because we like the candy and the presents too.