BUIZINGEN, Belgium (AP) - To ensure the merriment of millions of Belgian kids, the government is offering a special exemption from the stringent 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 health and interior ministers soothed any worries for children fearing they might go without presents by saying the saint wouldn’t have to stay in quarantine when arriving from red-zone Spain where he lives, and would be able to walk the rooftops to drop presents in chimneys even during curfew.
“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 is a highlight for Belgian kids, much like Santa Claus on Dec. 25 is in so many other nations.
With Belgium one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, the government is enforcing a night curfew, tough quarantine rules and other measures to contain COVID-19. In the past few days, the resurgence of the virus has started to show signs of abating.
Despite the exemptions, the ministers did point out to 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 a big official welcome Saturday when his ship arrives in the port of Antwerp, but that event, usually attended by several hundred children, has been banned.
The pandemic has been relatively lenient towards children when it comes to the death toll, but the lives of the very young have been turned upside down by anything from long school closures and sports club bans to advice to stay away from grandparents.
Because of that, the ministers asked St. Nicholas to be lenient, since he usually checks in his vast archives whether children have been naughty or nice before delivering 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.”