In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and other countries, the main festive occasion is the night of 5 December, because St Nicholas brings children their presents then. This figure, known as Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) is a half relative of Father Christmas, so they both have a very similar appearance: an old man with a long white beard, wearing a red and white suit. Despite that they also have their differences: it seems that St Nicholas comes from Spain, arrives off the Dutch coast onboard a ship and travels around on horseback.
The figure of Sinterklaas is inspired by the legend of St Nicolas of Myra, a fourth-century Turkish bishop. He is regarded as the patron saint of children because there are lots of legends about their protection linked to him. One of the most famous tells how he resurrected two children who had been killed by a butcher and his wife, while another says he left gold in some socks hanging by the fireplace that belonged to three very poor sisters whose father wanted to marry them off for money. No doubt that is where the custom of leaving presents in a Christmas stocking comes from.
But, to a lesser extent, St Nicolas is also popular in Catalonia. Some schools still venerate him as the patron saint of children, perform the legend and sing songs. And one tradition that persists on Montserrat is the feast of the “Bisbetó” Every 6 December, St Nicholas Day, a “little bishop” is chosen from among the new choir boys and consecrated. The boy who is chosen then becomes the highest authority in the monastery for a day. This is a festival with medieval roots that was held centuries ago in other places with a choir school, such as Palma Cathedral.