By Angie Georgeff
Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Clement Moore’s poem notwithstanding, I somehow doubt the original Nicholas, the fourth-century Greek Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, would ever have been called “a right jolly old elf.” The “good holy man” whose modern-day counterparts deliver presents to well-behaved Dutch children as Sinterklaas, gave us our Santa Claus.
Sinterklaas makes his visits on Saint Nicholas Eve (Dec. 5) in some provinces of the Netherlands and on Saint Nicholas morning (Dec. 6) in other parts. The venerable, bearded saint is dressed in red bishop’s robes and miter. He carries a crozier and a big, red book that tells him which children have been good and which have been naughty. With his hands full, Sinterklaas is assisted by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who hands out candy and gifts.
By 1660, many of the traditions concerning Saint Nicholas were well established in the Low Countries. Jan Steen’s painting, “The Feast of Saint Nicholas,” portrays a family celebrating the holiday amid abundance and comfort. A little girl – evidently good – clutches her doll and bucket of goodies. Her older brother – evidently naughty – cries when he is shown his empty shoe, while his younger brother points at him and laughs.
Dutch colonists brought Sinterklaas to America. One of our new novels, Francis Spufford’s “Golden Hill,” recounts a particularly momentous visit from Saint Nicholas to a family of Dutch origin who are living in New York City in 1746. It’s only one chapter of a book chock full of drama and tidbits of history, but I found it fascinating.
I enjoy well-researched historical fiction and actually prefer endings that leave one or two questions unanswered even after most of a character’s secrets are revealed. Like many who came to America in those early days, Richard Smith had a skeleton in his closet, which prompted a series of adventures and misadventures. We finally learn how and why he came to New York, but where he went from there is left for the reader to imagine – or perhaps a sequel…
The kids and teens who attend our programs are helping us make the holidays a little brighter for local nursing home residents this Christmas. They have been making cards and decorations for all of the residents and looking for presents for two octogenarians they have “adopted.” If you would like to help, a list of the simple gifts this lady and gentleman would like to receive is available at our circulation desk, along with their sizes. Handy calendars with a complete listing of programs for kids and teens are available in the Children’s Room, or check our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page for details.