Parents and children of all ages gathered at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House in Ridgewood on Sunday to celebrate and learn about the traditional Dutch holiday of St. Nicholas Day.
The holiday commemorates the anniversary of St. Nicholas’ death on Dec. 6, 343 A.D. Nicholas devoted his life to helping the poor and the sick. He was named was named Bishop of Myra and became known as a protector and patron saint of children due to his generous spirit and selfless deeds.
The feast of St. Nicholas has been celebrated throughout Europe for centuries, with a special emphasis placed on the act of giving. In the Netherlands, friends and families celebrate the saint by exchanging small gifts, candy and riddles. Dutch children typically leave carrots and hay in their shoes as a treat for St. Nicholas’ horse.
The New York Historical Society held the first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on Dec. 6, 1810, as a nod to the city’s Dutch roots. The story of St. Nicholas and his giving nature eventually evolved into the persona of Santa Claus, thanks in part to the publication of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now known to the world as “The Night Before Christmas,” in 1823.
Many elements of modern-day Christmas celebrations emerged from the legend of St. Nicholas, including the candy cane, which was modeled after Bishop Nicholas’ “crozier” or golden shepherd’s crook staff.
Sunday’s afternoon of song and celebration honoring St. Nicholas was hosted by The Greater Ridgewood Historical Society (GRHS). Festivities included educational crafts and ornament making, as well as photo opportunities with the costumed saint. Onderdonk House volunteers, clad in traditional Dutch Colonial and Victorian attire, served hot cider and spiced cookies while recounting the origins of St. Nicholas.
GRHS president Linda Monte led parents and children in a sing-along of traditional Christmas carols, including “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and the Bavarian hymn “O Tannenbaum.” St. Nicholas bestowed a special blessing upon the Onderdonk House Christmas tree before lighting it, much to the joy of the children in attendance.
After the festivities, GRHS members led visitors in a special candlelight tour of the historic farmhouse and rustic grounds complete with music and light fare. For those who missed the celebration, the society will host another candlelight tour of the house on Jan. 3, 2016, starting at 6 p.m. for a donation of $10.