Elisabeth, the Mother of Jane and Caroline recalls Christmases growing up in Holland:
At this time of the year I always think back to the time of St Nicholas as it is called in Holland. It is a bit different there, as St Nicholas, our Dutch Santa Claus celebration is on the 6th December, totally removed from Christmas.
This is the time when gifts are exchanged and not only are the gifts wrapped in Santa paper, a lot of gifts are made up to point out certain habits of family members, often accompanied by a rhyme, which indicated these different characters and often annoying habits.
One has to remember it is winter in Holland, which makes the atmosphere completely different: the houses are so cosy and warm inside, but outside it is already quite cold and often already snow and ice. By four o'clock in the afternoon it is getting dark and the lights are on inside.
During November all the shops start to make their preparations for Santa Claus, the children are told that Santa will soon arrive and they must be good, as only good children are given sweets or presents by one of the Black Peters, which are the servants of Santa and help him with making sure, that he visits all the children. The good children receive a gift, while the naughty ones get a hit on the hand.
As you would expect there are very few children who are naughty during this time of the year!!
Santa arrives on his white horse, prancing over the roofs of the houses and Black Peter slides down the chimney and finding some carrots for the horse, takes them with him, while leaving some special chocolate letters or marzipan in the shoes, which are put there for that very purpose.No one sees them but below Saint Nicholas arrives in Amsterdam.
In the morning the children cannot get ready quickly enough to see whether Santa has been or not.
My mother always got into the act and one day as we were playing the piano and singing Santa songs, the door suddenly opened and lots of lollies were thrown into the room. Straight after that my mother came through the door and said Guess what, I was in the kitchen and the door flew open - I saw Black Peter coming in, he was wearing white gloves and a silk purple shirt; he raced past me to throw lollies inside and off he ran again. He was out of the front-door so quickly, that I could not believe he was really here!
This time of the year always special, filled with enchantment and magic. I continued the tradition with my own children here in Australia, who in turn developed the same love for this delightful celebration, which we continue to enjoy to this day. Jane visited Santa in Finland earlier this year – a highlight of her Scandinavian adventure.