In The Netherlands, Christmas itself is taken in its religious connotation. It is not about presents, reindeer and portly, jolly old men. Christmas is a time for church and family. Instead, like many Europeans, the Dutch do their gift giving on St. Nicholas Day. Now before I go on I would like to make it quite clear that St. Nicholas - or Sinterklaas if you prefer a little Dutch in your life - and Santa Clause are not the same person. St. Nicholas is not a synonym for Santa whatsoever. In fact, when I was younger St. Nicholas was a frightening figure while Santa seemed to be a pretty awesome dude. St. Nicholas was the ying to Santa's yang.
Here's the deal on St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is obviously a saint. He was a pretty cool guy who had a tendency for leaving coins in people's shoes. As such, over the years it became the tradition to place your shoes by the hearth to receive the saint's many gifts. Now he's not just going to leave you shit; you have to do something for him in return. So you leave hay or carrots in your shoes because the white horse St. Nicholas rides over the rooftops gets pretty effing hungry. So if you're good, and you've left some treats for the pony, you'll get some presents and candy and all the good things that such holidays are meant to bring. YAY! If you're naughty though, instead of gifts you'll receive some sticks. Now I'm sure none of this seems remotely frightening. It's what comes after all the sticks that is really messed up.
If you get sticks this is a huge warning. Basically, if you get the dreaded sticks you better shape your shit up or else what happens the next year will really, really suck. If you are naughty the next year St. Nicholas's helper, Zwarte Piet (I'd explain what that means but I'll just tell you some would say it's somewhat politically incorrect), will scoop you up and drag you to Spain in a bag. Once you get to Spain you will be forced to make toys for all the good kids for one year. Way worse than coal in a stocking.
Don't worry, I never awoke to the dreaded sticks in my wooden shoes. Rather I got epic things like an American Girl Doll. Basically, St. Nicholas freaked the eff out of me, but luckily I was a fairly wonderful kid. Years later, St. Nicholas is still sending me gifts. Ironically, they come from my mom in big brown boxes right to my door. Go figure. This year however I have just moved and my mailbox is currently being rekeyed. This has meant that my gifts, which were delivered on Saturday, have been just out of reach. There is nothing worse than knowing your presents are there just waiting to be unwrapped and you can't get to them. I feel like I'm twelve and I did the whole "can we open one present on Christmas Eve" thing and mom said no. Not even fair.
Tomorrow I'll finally get in there and discover the awesomeness that awaits me. I know it will contain a chocolate letter (it's tradition to receive the first letter of your name in chocolate) and other sorts of sweet goodness. Luckily, it has been below zero thus preserving all my yummy treats within the confines of that metal mailbox. Don't worry presents I'm coming!