Saint Nicholas vs. Santa Claus: Who's Who? with Alette Fleischer

Saint Nicholas vs. Santa Claus: Who's Who? with Alette Fleischer


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December is the month to spoil our children and/or loved ones. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas gives presents on the evening of December 5th. In America, Santa Claus brings gifts on the night of Christmas Eve. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas has his black Petes to assist him, in America Santa Claus has his elves. This holiday conversation will talk about the origins and the makings of the various traditions and the creation of myths and mysteries to overcome the dark December month. Furthermore, we will discuss black Pete, how he came part of the tradition, and how to rethink this figure.

On the evening of December 5th, Dutch children, together with parents and grandparents, celebrate Saint Nicholas’ birthday with gifts and jokes. We’ll discuss the origins of Saint Nicholas (aka Sinterklaas), originally a third-century bishop from Myra (Turkey), his voyage to the Netherlands, and his entourage (a white horse and his Petes). We’ll learn about the tradition behind kids putting their shoes in front of the fireplace, singing certain songs, and what the good children get, and the naughty ones too! Although the Saint Nicholas-festivity has been celebrated since the fourteenth century, his present-day entourage (steamboat, black Pete) is based on nineteenth-century literature.

Many of us might know the familiar image of Santa Claus: a stout man in red costume trimmed with white fur, journeying from the North Pole with his elves and flying reindeers. We’ll discuss the holiday tradition behind Santa Claus and the gift-giving on Christmas Eve. This character is based on various mythological figures, such as the British Father Christmas and the Dutch Sinterklaas. We’ll learn how Santa, in the shape we know him today, can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. Through publications with engravings on Santa’s appearance, his home, sleigh, and reindeer, the American gift-giver took shape. We’ll note the differences between the two figures: Santa fills socks instead of shoes, but like Sinterklaas, uses a chimney to gain access to the living room. He is even portrayed as a magician, making it snow and putting food on a poor family’s table.

Led by an expert on Dutch history and culture, Alette Fleischer, this interactive seminar will reveal where certain traditions come from, how traditions develop over time and geography and whether or not one can change or adapt a tradition. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased awareness that traditions are fun and valid, but needs to be scrutinized and brushed off at times.

Amsterdam-born Alette Fleischer has a degree in Art History and a PhD in 17th Dutch History, focusing on gardens, science, and technology. She has curated several exhibitions, publishes articles, presents lectures, and a proud Context Expert. For Context Travel, Alette has led the Rijksmuseum tours many times. Motto: staying curious is key for being a good historian.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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