Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Odd stamps : 01e Perfumed stamps

In the beginning of December, Belgian and Dutch children are looking forward on the visit of Saint Nicolas.  (also parts of northern France, Luxemburg, Germany , Switserland, Austria and even parts of Italy are familiar with 'Santa').

The 'Sinterklaasfeest' celebrates the name day, 6 December, of Saint Nicholas (270–343), patron saint of children. Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. In 1087, half of his relics were furtively transported to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. Bari later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples, because it was previously conquered in 1442 by Alfonso V of Aragon. The city thus became part of the Kingdom of Aragon and later of Spain, until the 18th century. 

Sinterklaas and the book with the names of all 'good' children
Every year, Sinterklaas makes his 'official introduction, by arriving by boat in the mayor harbours in Belgium and the Netherland. As there is the historic link with Spain, all kids are convinced that the good man therefore is arriving from Spain.

If you have been naughty during the past year, you'll risk to get punished or whipped with a branch, all good children will get presents (how convenient for the parents....)Of course there are no bad children, so everyone receives something from Sinterklaas.
As with many 'catholic' traditions, there are links with much older costumes.
There is for example a parallel with the old Celtic costumes and even with nordic folk religion:
  • Sinterklaas rides the rooftops on his white horse which has various names; Odin rides the sky with his grey horse Sleipnir.
  • Sinterklaas gives chocolate letters to children, like Odin gave the rune letters to man.
  • Sinterklaas carries a staff and has mischievous helpers with black faces, who listen at chimneys to find out whether children are bad or good and report to Sinterklaas; Odin has a spear and his black ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who report what happens in the world to Odin.

Aside from toys, (nowadays given around Christmas and New Year), Saint Nicolas brings candy and more specificly a typical cookie : speculaas (or speculoos).
speculaas - speculoos
A cookie you often receive when ordering a coffee on a Belgian terrace.
The ingredients to make speculaas : flour, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg.
For Sinterklaas, the speculaas cookies are made in the shape of Sinterklaas, or as small nut shaped cookies. Then we call them 'kruidnoten' ('litt: herb nuts').

specially shaped speculaas
A similar and often confused cookie is the 'pepernoot' (lit: peper nut).
The ingredients are slightly different, and the final cookie is softer than the 'kruidnoot':
They are light brown, round shaped, and made from the same ingredients as taai-taai: flour, sugar, anise, cinnamon, and clove.
peper nuts

So far the introduction to the topic of the day :
The 'sinterklaas - stamps' of the Netherlands, with the fragrance of speculaas.

perfumed stamps of the Netherlands - 2013
In Belgium there's a city called Sint-Niklaas, and the good old men is also the patron saint of Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands.

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