Speculating on Speculaas and St. Nicholas

This post is a day late and a Guilder short, but it really doesn’t make any difference here in the United States because we have no December 6th traditions; it was just another Thursday here. Yet, that’s a much different case in northern Europe.  Yesterday was the traditional feast of St. Nicholas, or  Nikolaos of Myra, which opens the Christmas season in that part of the world. Not only do some children wake up to find a gift in their shoes, but they may be eating some speculaas at breakfast. These gingerbread-like cookies are ‘stamped’ which form the cookies into bas-relief images of characters and symbols from stories about Saint Nicholas.


It is a shame that customs like this have not survived in the current generation. As a child, we’d get an orange or a piece of candy in our shoe on this date, a custom brought to America by my immigrant grandparents. My wife and I attempted to continue that tradition, but we were not diligent about it and, as a result, our own grandchildren have no idea of this custom.

There is a new book out on St. Nick, The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus, and, rather than reviewing the various traditions surrounding St. Nicholas Day, the author attempts to find the man behind the myth.  Of course, that is like attempting to corral the wind, but nonetheless, the book takes the reader on an interesting journey into the history of the time, with all of the legends and customs of Medieval Europe.

As most who read and contribute to this blog understand, the Santa Claus myth was developed to counter the Pagan festival of  Saturnalia, the time of gift-giving and celebration that was celebrated in Roman times at the end of December. St. Nick fit in nicely to give it a ‘Christian’ spin.  In fact, again as we all know, the Christmas myth is nothing more than a spin on Pagan rites and rituals.

Thus we ask, how’s your Yule coming along?



14 thoughts on “Speculating on Speculaas and St. Nicholas

  1. It’s a form of serendipitous synchronization when I come in from a blustery wet day of work outdoors and sit down at the computer with a mug of hot tea and speculaas cookies and find this post! I’m munching on pretty good dutch made commercial speculaas, but I actually purchased some very nice authentic old wooden speculaas forms last summer. We all know about Sinterklaas und der Zwarte Piet….but what ever happened to the good old tradition of Krampus? The Christmas Devil!!!!!! Now that’s how you get the young ‘uns to behave!

  2. I love the Sedaris piece…I just finished reading his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day….I really related to his description of his early history of trying to speak French…I still have the occasional bizarre episode when I come across to innocent French people as a demented hillbilly baby…

  3. IMO, Krampus is very active today …
    Police and child advocates broke padlocks and busted down doors in a surprise raid of a sweatshop in India, only to find a group of children imprisoned who had been forced to make Christmas decorations.
    The children, as young as 8 years old, were kept in rooms approximately six feet by six feet and had been forced to work up to 19-hour days making the decorations, which advocates believe may have been intended to be sold on the cheap in the United States.
    More examples of Krampus-in-action are listed here

  4. When it says ” the Christmas myth is nothing more than a spin on Pagan rites and rituals”, do you mean the date for the holiday or is the myth concerned
    with the virgin birth of a “sacrificial lamb” to atone for the sins of the
    world past and present which fulfills the Old Testament and the faithful
    christians merit heaven?

    1. How about ALL of it! Hogwash 100%. This is the only life we have so enjoy it because there ain’t no more and no ‘savior’ did anything for anyone.

      1. Are you trying to say that someone might propagate a myth to benefit in some personal way? Maybe you’re possessed and I know someone you can call.

        1. Thanks for the tip. I’ve been reading two E-books written at the turn of the 20th century which decimate the entire ‘story’ of the Savior of the World named Jesus.

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