The Origin of San Nicolas By: Roland W. Peterson

arubaOften I am asked, if I know where the name of our town San Nicolas originated from. istorians and authors disagree where the name of our town, San Nicolas came from.

With this short article I will not pretend to eliminate all doubts, but at least I will give my opinion as to how I see it and leave it to the reader to decide for him/herself.

In the first half of the 19th century on maps of Aruba, the bay of the little sleepy town is referred to as the “Great Bay” (Baai Grootgat).

In 1887 they are mentioning the name St. Nicolaas Bay (Boca St.Nicolaas).

Some people claim that the town got its name for a certain Shon Nicolaas Croes van der Biest (1808 – 1873).He was the father-in-law of the customs officer Jan Hendrik Gottfried Eman. His home “Casa Blanca” stood, in 1870, at the “mooring place” at the bay. This is where the first pier was built.

Others claim that the bay was called after a certain Shon Nicolaas Eman (1812 – 1881). .

Then there are others that claim, that this little fishing harbor town was named for Saint Nicholas, who is the patron of seamen and sea merchants.

In those days, many seamen called upon the Holy St. Nicholas, for a safe sea journey and haven.

Many harbor places (towns) in the world have churches called for the holy Saint Nicholas.

Personally, I am convinced that this last option, definitely, is the most plausible one and for the following reasons.

First of all, the town is called: Sint Nicolaas (Dutch spelling). It was customary to name fishing and harbor towns for Saint Nicholas. So Aruba got its own Sint Nicolaas harbor town.

Secondly we are speaking about a “Saint” (Sint). Thus the person has to be a “Saint”.

So far I have not been able to trace where an Aruban Croes or Eman has been canonized. There are no Saint Croes or Saint Eman. This makes it clear enough for me.

The contents of this article are based on these facts and so is my opinion.

I am explicitly stressing the point that this article is not a scientific or historical report; it is just the opinion of your humble author.

Who is Saint Nicholas?

St. Nicholas was born in 270 AD in the village of Patara. This is a town on the southern coast of Turkey. He died on December 6, 343AD. Some historians write that the anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day. Others claim that December 6 was the date of his birth.

Many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and his good deeds. His extraordinary character makes us understand why he is so loved as a champion and protector of those in need..

In the East he is the miracle worker…In the West a patron of a great variety of persons, children, mariners, bankers, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, sailors, repentant thieves and prostitutes. A friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

Around the world sailors spread stories of his deeds and protection. In many seaports St. Nicholas chapels were built.

 More than two thousand churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla (Colombia), Amsterdam (Netherlands), and also Russia.

Santa Claus is also the patron of  ”Nieuw Amsterdam” the Dutch name that was used for New York City.

He is a favorite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sea. He is the patron Saint of several cities with harbors.

In Greek folklore St. Nicholas is called the “Lord of the Sea”.

In Greece, he is still a recognizable saint and December 6 finds many cities celebrating him as their patron Saint.

The Roman Catholics depicts St. Nicholas as a bishop wearing a red bishop’s cloak, a red miter and a bishop’s staff (crosier).

In Aruba St. Nicholas Day is a festival for children. They love him as a bringer of gifts. This tradition comes from Europe.

Sinterklaas Eve, December 5 is the occasion for gift-giving in the Netherlands.

In the days leading up to December 5, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat. Young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing special “Sinterklaas liedjes” (songs). The shoe is filled with some grass or a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse called “Amerigo”. On the next morning they will find a small gift and candy in the shoe.

In Germany we have Nikolaus. Children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside in front the door on the night of December 5. St. Nikolaus puts gifts in the boot and at the same time inquires about the children to see if they have behaved well. If they were naughty, they will get a tree branch (rue) in their boot.

A disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or at their homes and asks them if they “have been good” while checking the Big Book for their records.

For some children Niklaus also means fear, as he is often accompanied by ” Knecht  Ruprecht”, who would threaten to beat  the children who behaved bad.. Knecht Ruprecht has goat feet.

In Switzerland we have “Schmutzli”. He threatens to put bad children in a bag and takes them back to the dark forest.

The American name Santa Claus and the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas come from these legends.

Santa Claus comes from the Dutch word Sinterklaas.

St. Nicholas symbols.

To recognize St. Nicholas there are some symbols.

The miter is a general symbol for bishops; it is a tall red hat.

Crosier is a hooked staff carried by a bishop. The staff is carried by the bishop as the shepherd of the people.

Children are often shown with St. Nicholas, because he is their patron.

Ships, sailors and harbors symbolize the association with St. Nicholas.

Anchor, sailors, ships and sea represents the relationship with St. Nicholas.

Book, the large book is the Record Book of children’s behavior.                                                                                                                                                   

Shoes with children’s treats or food for Amerigo are symbols for St. Nicholas.

The patron Saint has many cities and countries that carry his name…

Here are a few cities and towns.

Argentina – San Nicolas

Aruba – Sint Nicolaas,

Belgium – Ghent, Kampenhou, Liege – Sint Niklaas

Canada – Saint Nicolas, Quebec

Colombia – Barranquilla

England – Liverpool

France – Amiens, Le Sonici

Greece – Corfu, Parga

Italy – Ancona, Bari

Mexico – San Nicolas, San Nicolas de Ibarra

The Netherlands – Amsterdam, Deventer, Dordrecht, St. Nicolaasga, Zoetermeer.  (More than fifty cities and towns)

Peru – San Nicolas

Philippines – San Nicolas, Pangesinan

Russia – Moscow, Zaraisk

Scotland – Aberdeen

Spain – Alicante

Switzerland – Sankt Niklaus

United States - New York City, San Nicolas Island California

Venezuela – Palomar

Wales – Saint  Nicholas.

As you can see, it has been a long journey from the Fourth Century Bishop, to the America’s Santa Claus in a sleigh pulled by reindeers through the sky.

But today he is still Nicholas, the Bishop, whose caring continues to be a model of giving and faithfulness,

St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron Saint of Children is still a champion of how Christians should be living with each other.

As I walk the streets of San Nicolas, I often look to see if I could find something that I recognize as a tribute to our patron St. Nicholas.

There is no street, no square, no building, yes nothing to show that we honor him.

I think that something should be done to pay at least a little tribute to the patron Saint of San Nicolas. This is long overdue.

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