Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Legend of Sinterklaas (as told by an American)

The legit (read wikipedia) version of Sinterklaas can be found here. The awesome and much more interesting version can be found…
Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus…He’s what keeps kids good 364 days a year. The story is based on the true Saint Nicolas…He was a real man who would put coins in shoes of poor children and secretly deliver gifts as well. He was born in Turkey but for some reason moved to Spain. It was probably the weather, but maybe the flamenco dancing. But he doesn’t really care about either of those countries because every year in the middle of November, he comes to The Netherlands on a boat. Sometimes when the waves are too rocky (like in Noordwijk) he has to leave his very large ship and get to land on a speedboat (cuz that’s how he rolls)…He then makes appearances all over the country arriving on ships through canals, rivers, dams, and of course the ocean. He then gets on a white horse and goes off to make mall appearances until the 5th of December. On this day, he leaves a bag of presents at the door for all the good little boys and girls. While they are sleeping, he also fills their shoes (wooden ones in keeping with Dutch stereotypes) with little toys (this also happens for about a week beforehand.) You can leave carrots in the shoes for his horse. But no cookies...Sinterklaas is watching his saturated fats. The 5th also the day of Christmas gift giving in the Netherlands. It is much more the commercialized holiday we know to be the holiday season in the U.S. The 25th is more a time to be with family and the 26th is Boxing Day – a time to pack up your old things, put on a pair of gloves, and get ready to rumble.
The Dutch government is very careful about Sinterklass’ appearances. He is never arriving (especially if it’s televised) in two places at once. Kind of like the Santa Claus at Disneyland (oops did I give something away?)
Of course, this Holiday figure is not as forgiving as our Santa, and kidnaps little boys and girls who are naughty and takes them back to Spain with him. Who knows what happens to them…perhaps they become part of his army of workers. Speaking of his army of workers, here they are…That’s right!! Good old-fashioned black-faced is used to create the Zwarte Piet or “Black Piet.” Zwarte Piets are Sinterklaas’ helpers, like the elves living up at the North Pole. They arrive with Sinterklaas or using other methods of transportation. I wonder if there was on argument on where they had to sit…Of course no black-faced character would be complete without a good ol’ timey minstrel dance…Cookies made in their likeness...And of course some imitations…Or perhaps even some sexual perverseness…Ok, ok, I jest (sort of.) Nowadays, with political correctness, they say that he is dirty from going up and down the chimney. But not many Dutch people actually buy into that crap. Even African-Dutch think that it’s stupid to try and change a tradition that’s been around for four hundred years. I guess none of them ever had a Dream.
Regardless, I enjoy the Sinterklaas Holiday. It reminds me of walking around Target singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” while ornament shopping. I even get into the commercialism with my version of a Santa hat…Or perhaps some festive bobble headbands…When Sinterklaas arrived in Noordwijk, we were all very excited. We bundled up and went out to the beach in the rain to wait. The whole family was there...This was the first year Fien could really understand the concept of him, and she had a blast…Of course she didn’t really want to get near him, and she only went up to the Zwarte Piet because he was giving out bags of kruidnoten. And without a kid, I couldn’t really get close enough to get a good picture…But I think you can imagine it. It’s a Holiday tradition, different but still with similarities to our own. I’m looking forward to the visit from Sinterklaas this year. I can’t wait to see what he brings me!

Here’s a little Holiday Activity for the young as well as the young at heart.

Word of the day: schip - ship

1 comment:

  1. You are going to have so much fun on Sinterklaas! I went to Delft and happened to catch a prosession, and just as Sinterklaas appeared, it started snowing!
    I have some great pictures of kids in blackface and of swarte pieten harpooning a whale pinata (for reasons I still don't know). I can't wait to hear what you see!

    If you are ever on skype I would love to chat!



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