Mom, dad and the kids enjoyed a slice of yesteryear, harking back to the Colonial era, when Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum hosted a St. Nicholas Day celebration, featuring tours, refreshments and a delightful history lesson.
The young and the young-at-heart prepared wooden shoes for the heralded arrival of St. Nick and his companion, Black Piet at New York’s oldest house “in true Dutch fashion,” 5816 Clarendon Road.
In turn, the merrymakers were charmed by the man, whose name has become synonymous with Christmas as they learned Dutch carols and enjoyed colonial-style music, sweet treats and arts and crafts.
Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in Dutch, was a real person, who was born in Turkey in 271 AD as the only child of wealthy parents. He traveled around the Mediterranean and to the Holy Land and used his wealth to help the poor. He helped three poor sisters by leaving gold coins in their shoes while they slept, and today, Dutch children leave wooden shoes by the fireplace to be filled with toys and treats.
Nicholas became a priest and performed many miracles, including calming storms and saving children from death. He became the bishop of Myra, Turkey, and in Dutch tradition wears a bishop’s red robes and carries a mitre and a crosier. He died on December 6, 343 AD and is celebrated as the patron saint of sailors, merchants and children.
Lore has it that Nicholas’s knight companion, Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter, carries a birch staff, a sack of treats and a red book that records the good and bad deeds of children.
Festivities traditionally begin on December 5 when St. Nicholas, Piet and their helpers arrive from their home in Spain. The Dutch consider this a feast filled with tricks, food and fun. St. Nicholas rides his white horse, Schimmel, through the town and visits everyone. Piet shakes his birch staff at the children, warning them that Sinterklaas knows who has been good or bad and tosses treats into the crowd.
Everyone then returns home to feast on food and sweets. After the meal children fill their wooden shoes with hay and carrots for Schimmel and place them by the fireplace. During the night St. Nicholas and Piet travel over the rooftops listening at chimneys to hear who has been naughty or nice. Piet climbs down the chimneys and leaves treats for the good children and birch switches for the bad.