We often associate the holidays with the special traditions we share with our loved ones. In the US, this can mean anything from trimming the Christmas tree to baking an old family recipe. In honor of our Belgian heritage, we’d like to share the tradition of St. Nicholas Day, which is fêted in Belgium and in many other parts of Europe on December 6th.

The holiday figure of St. Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas in Belgium, is actually the inspiration for our Santa Claus in the US. This patron saint of children, sailors and merchants (among others!) was revered for his generosity and penchant for secret gift-giving. In fact, he was known for leaving coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, or December 5th, children excitedly prepare for his arrival by filling their shoes with carrots or bits of hay intended for St. Nicholas’ horse and placing them by the fireplace or outside their bedroom doors. Singing songs about Sinterklaas, they anxiously await the morning’s festivities. Children awaken the next morning to find the carrots replaced by small gifts, coins, candies and clever, individualized poems.

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Some typical gifts include marzipan figures, chocolates in the shape of the first letter of the child’s name, hot chocolate and biscuits. That’s gift-giving we can get behind! Today, many families celebrate with more extravagant presents and some do so in a Secret Santa-style exchange.

If you’re inspired by this Belgian tradition, come in and browse our holiday gift selection (also available online) – if not for shoe-stuffing, then for stocking stuffing! At Le Pain Quotidien, we are celebrating St. Nicholas Day by hosting cookie decorating events in select neighborhood locations. For a full list of events, click here.

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Do you have a unique holiday tradition you hold close to your heart? What makes the winter season special for you? Share with us by commenting below!