The jolly-looking man who so closely resembles Santa Claus is Sinterklaas, a 4th century bishop (hence “bishop’s wine”) from modern-day Turkey. Known as the patron saint of sailors and children, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands each year on Dec. 6 aboard a steamship, riding a large gray horse and accompanied by his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, or “Black Peters.”

Before going to bed the evening of Dec. 5, children all over the Netherlands put their wooden shoes near the back door, full of apples or carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse. In the morning, they’ll receive either small gifts or-if they’ve been bad-a lump of coal or a bag of salt.

A song that Dutch families sing on this evening goes like this:

Look, yonder comes the schooner,
All the way from Spain.
There stand good St. Nicholas,
Coming back again.

Frisking up and down the deck,
See his horsie go!
How prettily the pennants
Flutter to and fro! His servant smiles upon us-
With gifts his bags are rich-
Who’s good, shall have some goodies,
Who’s naughty, gets a switch

~ From the book “Tales Told in Holland” by Olive Beaupre’ Miller

Bisschopswijn is very much part of the Sinterklaas tradition in the Netherlands. Just as our families have certain foods that are made each year around the holidays and that fill the air with the smells of the season, Dutch families sip bisschopswijn as they await the arrival of the good saint.

Whether you put your wooden shoe out or not, you, too, can be part of this rich Dutch tradition by enjoying the aroma and taste of bisschopswijn.

To read more about Sinterklaas, the folklore, his history, controversy and modern traditions click on the links below…