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December 2004

Jan Steen (1626-1679): The Feast of St Nicholas (circa 1665-1668)

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(12):1104. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.12.1104

Each year, boys and girls all over Holland look forward to December 5 with eager anticipation. It is the night called Sinterklaas, named after the patron saint of children and sailors, a venerated figure in this seafaring land. St Nicholas arrives from the sea wearing an embroidered, jewel-studded robe and bishop’s miter, riding a white horse, carrying a crooked staff, and accompanied by his faithful servant, Black Piet. On the night of December 5, they scamper about the rooftops of Holland, dropping gifts and goodies down the chimney into shoes and stockings left near the fireplace. Often, children leave carrots or hay in their shoes as a snack for the bishop’s horse. With a little help from their parents, wise old St Nick knows which boys and girls have been good and which have been naughty or lazy during the year, and he gives what he thinks each child deserves.

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