Belgium exempts gift-bearing St Nicholas from virus measures
BUIZINGEN, Belgium (AP) — To ensure the merriment of millions of children, the government of Belgium is offering a special exemption from the country’s strict coronavirus measures to beloved St. Nicholas, who always delivers bountiful presents on the morning of Dec. 6.
In a tongue-in-cheek letter Thursday, the Belgian health and interior ministers soothed the worries of children fearing they might go without presents this year. The officials said Nicholas wouldn’t have to quarantine after arriving in Belgium from Spain, where he lives, and would be able to walk rooftops to drop gifts into chimneys even during curfew hours.
“Dear Saint, do what you do best: make every child happy. We are counting on you,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said in the joint letter.
For generations, the visit of St. Nicholas at the onset of winter has been a holiday highlight for Belgian kids, much like the work of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is in so many other nations.
With Belgium one of the European countries hit worst by the coronavirus, the government is enforcing a nightly curfew, tough quarantine rules and other measures to curb infections. The resurgence of the virus has started to show signs of abating in the past few days.
Notwithstanding the exemptions, the ministers cautioned St. Nicholas to “always respect distancing, wash hands regularly and wear a face mask,” despite his long white beard.
The saint was supposed to get his annual official welcome Saturday when his ship arrives in the port of Antwerp, but the event, usually attended by several hundred children, has been banned.
Children have not faced as much risk of serious illness or death from the virus, but the pandemic has turned the lives of youngsters upside down by closing schools, canceling sports and keeping grandparents who are more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 out of reach.
Because of that, the ministers asked St. Nicholas to be lenient about reviewing his vast archives to determine whether children have been naughty or nice and using the information to make decisions on presents.
“Every kid here is a hero,” the ministers pleaded in their letter. “So, for once, you don’t have to check it in your big book.”