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Historical Society Celebrates St. Nicholas Day

Children of all ages can celebrate traditional Dutch holiday.

A half-century-old tradition will continue Saturday when the Historical Society of Rockland County hosts its annual St. Nicholas Day event.

The hour-long program will take place three times, at 11 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., in the society's 1832 Jacob Blauvelt House and is designed for children of all ages to help celebrate the traditional Dutch holiday.

Children attending the event will start by taking their shoes off after they enter the Blauvelt House and placing them on a windowsill. They then will be taken into a room and be told several holiday stories and the legend of St. Nicholas by storyteller Joyce DeSousa.

"She really gives the children a wonderful backdrop and history," said Clare Sheridan, the society's interim executive director.

After the storytelling, the children are visited by St. Nicholas, who also will give them carrots to feed to his horse. Upon returning to get their shoes, the children will find that St. Nicholas has filled them with bags of candy. After the program, there will be refreshments.

Tickets are $5 for both adults and children and include entrance to the society's 35th Annual Miniatures & Dollhouse Show. Reservations are strongly recommended.

The event, which started in 1961, is patterned after the traditional European celebration, which took place the evening of Dec. 5 and was the primary occasion for gift-giving since this date was St. Nicholas' reputed birthday.

In the Netherlands, young children put their shoes in front of chimneys and sang Sinterklaas songs. Often, they put a carrot or some hay in their shoes as a gift to St. Nicholas' horse. The next morning, they find a small present in their shoes, ranging from sweets to marbles or some other small toy. On the evening of Dec. 5, Sinterklaas brings presents to every child that has behaved well in the past year (in practice, just like with Santa Claus, all children received gifts without distinction). A variation of this event is celebrated in many European countries.

Sheridan said the local historical society started the event to honor the Dutch heritage of Rockland County, whose founders had moved up from the Dutch settlement of New York. The event aims to teach local residents about the Dutch tradition.

"We're trying to pass on these traditions that a lot of the people who settled in Rockland County brought with them from the old country," she said.

For more information on the event, call the Historical Society of Rockland County at (845) 634-9629 or visit www.rocklandhistory.org. The society is at 20 Zukor Road, in New City, opposite Clarkstown's Zukor Park complex.

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