Flemish Sinterklaas Influence in “Nieuw Nederland”
Following the Dutch Calvinist Reformation the observance of saints days was outlawed in the Netherlands. This, of course, included St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas). The Calvinist “Alteration” of 1578 also outlawed public Catholic worship and confiscated the churches. It was declared illegal to observe St. Nicholas throughout the Netherlands. All of this happened before Henry Hudson set sail for the New World in 1609.
So, the Dutch entrepreneurs who came to New Netherland with the Dutch West India Company were Dutch Reformed Protestants and under Dutch law. What was outlawed in Amsterdam was outlawed in the Dutch colonies.
However, the Reformed Calvinist movement didn’t touch the Flemish area that is now in Belgium. Some of the settlers in New Netherland were indeed from this Catholic area. Among these were the Loockermans. Two sisters, Annetje and Govert, along with several brothers, were from Turnhout, near Antwerp, in Belgium. Annetje married Olaf van Courtlandt and their children grew up to be prominent citizens in the colony. They included son Stephanus, the first native-born mayor of New York City, and daughter Maria, who married Jeremias van Rensselaer.
Maria and Jeremias van Rensselaer lived in Albany, where the earliest reference to Sinterklaas in colonial America is believed to be a 1675 baker’s receipt from Wouter de Backer (Walter the Baker) to Maria Van Rensselaer, daughter of Annetje Lookrmans, whose background was likely Catholic, from Turnhout. Among other items, Maria purchased rusks, white bread, “koeken” (cookies) and 2 guilders, 10 stivers of “suntterclaesgoet” (Sinterklaas goods).
The receipt is from March 1675, a curious date if the items were, in fact, for celebrating Sinterklaas. Unanswered is the question whether Sinterklaas would have been widely observed in the Albany colony, or only in this family with its likely maternal Flemish Catholic influences.