Posted in Kafevend Blog
Living in the UK, where our cultural links to English speaking nations like the USA and Australia are far stronger than those to mainland Europe, it can be easy to assume that Christmas on the continent happens much the same as it does here. In fact, traditions vary widely and first on our list to look at is Holland.
While British children must wait 'til Christmas Eve to hang up their stockings in readiness for Santa's visit, Dutch children leave a shoe by the fireplace much earlier in December. In Holland, the other Low countries and former Dutch colonies, the celebration of Sinterklaas on the 5th and 6th December is when children receive their main haul of presents. Sinterklaas is a contraction of Sint Nikolaas, so yes, you've guessed it, St. Nicholas brings presents to the children there, if they've been good of course! However, while our own Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, Sinterklaas resides in the warmer climes of Spain. The original Saint Nicholas lived in what was then part of Greece during the 4th century A.D. He became a bishop and was known for his kind deeds and for giving his own money to the poor. He is represented wearing his red bishop's robes and mitre, so not quite such a cosy figure as Santa, but no less kindly.
A popular drink for adults at Sinterklaas parties is Bischopswijn, which translates as Bishop's wine and is like our mulled wine, but the star food attraction for children and adults alike are the cake and biscuits. Pepernoten are chewy biscuits flavoured with honey and aniseed. Speculaas and kruidnoten are spiced biscuits that contain a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, aniseed, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and mace, while taai-taai, translating as tough-tough, are chewier but still contain a heavy dose of spices. Perhaps the importance of spices to the recipes should come as no surprise; we've already discovered that nutmeg was the very reason for the formation of the Dutch East India Company.
Be sure to visit the blog tomorrow for a speculaas biscuit recipe!