Dose of Art #96: Jan Steen – The Feast of Saint Nicholas (1622)

Today is the feast of Saint Nicholas which is celebrated in the Netherlands since the 13th century. Although his name day is December 6th, the feast is celebrated the evening before. Children get gifts and candy, as long as they have behaved well the past year.

The painting by Jan Steen shows al the elements which are still present in today’s feast.
The girl has got a doll and a bucket full of candy and gifts (she has obviously been a good girl in the past year). Her brother, on the other hand, hasn’t behaved well; he didn’t get any presents in his shoe but a ‘roe’ (small twigs bound together and used to punish children). His sister is showing his shoe with the ‘roe’ to her little brother and they are both laughing. The boy himself is still crying, but in the background we see his grandmother beckoning him, probably to give him a gift anyway. On the right, an older boy is pointing at the chimney to show his brothers how Saint Nicholas came into the house. The little child in his arms is holding a taai-taai pop (a kind of gingerbread). In the foreground, we see more food associated with the feast; in the basket apples (the one on the table has a coin in it), honey cakes, waffles, ‘speculaas’ (a spicey biscuit) and a ‘hylickmaker’ (gingerbread). On the right, we see a big diamond shaped ‘Duivekater’ and -on the table- and apple with a coin in it.