Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis and The Grand Westward Look Hotel
We were in Amsterdam late in November and everyone was preparing for the visit of Sinterklaas, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus.
Sinterklaas (also called Sint-Nicolaas in Dutch and Saint Nicolas in French) is a traditional holiday figure in the Netherlands and Belgium that is celebrated every year on Saint Nicholas' Eve (December 5) or in Flanders, Belgium, on the morning of December 6.
The mythological figures Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, along with the historical figure of Greek St. Basil the Great, are considered the patron saints of children and all three bring gifts to the “good” children of Europe. They are all dressed similarly in red clothes (crimson being the traditional color of the cape and cap of a bishop).
Traditionally Santa Clause lives by the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, his helper elves and reindeer – there are many Santa Claus villages and Santa Claus homes I have visited in Finland, located above the Arctic Circle and especially around Rovaniemi, Kaukonen and Kittila.
According to the Dutch tradition St. Nicholas is single, lives in Spain and is assisted in his labors by numerous Zwarte Pieten (Black Peter) who build the gifts he presents to the children and help him distribute them.
St. Basil is also single (Bishops do not marry or have families in the Orthodox tradition) and lives in Caesarea, Cappadocia, where he was bishop in the mid-4th century. The holiday of St. Basil is celebrated the morning of January 1st, when he brings the gifts to the children. The holiday is also notable for the baking of Saint Basil's bread – in Greek Vasilópita, a sweet bread with a coin baked inside. The bread gets apportioned to the members of the family during a very early morning breakfast following the New Year’s celebrations; whoever gets the coin in his/her portion will have good luck for the rest of the year.
The traditional image of the jovial, white bearded, red dressed figure that rewards the “good” children at the end of each year was actually created not in Europe but in the United States. Illustrator Haddon H. Sundblom was spending the holidays in the early-1930s at the Grand Westward Look Hotel in Tucson, Arizona. At that time, he was commissioned to create the image of Santa Claus for the D’Arcy advertising agency that promoted Coca Cola. He used the hotel owner’s children as models and “Hap” Arnold, a Tucson radio personality, served as Santa. Original illustrations as well as copies of further illustrations of Santa and the celebrating children still hang in one of the hotel’s salons.
The upcoming St. Nicholas celebrations in the Netherlands brought the familiar red clad figure to Amsterdam’s store windows and at De Bijenkorf, the largest and most important department store in Amsterdam, animated figures of Zwarte Pieten the traditional St. Nicholas’ helpers, climbed up and down suspended ropes hanging from the ceiling of the central atrium.
It is very interesting to note how mostly mythological personalities of the Nordic countries, central Europe and Orthodox Greece assisted by illustrations from a United States commercial artist, have melded into and become a universally beloved figure, revered throughout the modern world.
© January 2019 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.