SINTERKLAAS. A lesson in Dutch traditions
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Time for a lesson in Dutch tradition. Let us talk about Sinterklaas.
December is around the corner and for the Dutch that is quite a busy month. Of course there is Christmas at the end -that we stretch a little by adding 2nd Christmas day (official) and just for the hell of it we add a 3rd (unofficial).
But before all of this takes place, we all look forward to December 5th. That is when we celebrate “Sinterklaas Avond”(Sinterklaas evening). Children are made to believe that an old man sails to The Netherlands in his “Pakjes boot” (boat full of gifts), and when they were nice for a year, they will get presents for good behavior. If they were naughty, Sinterklaas will take them back to Spain when he leaves again the week after December 5th. As a kid, that was so scary, but I must say, it sounds quite appealing to me now.
In Arnhem we’ll welcome Sinterklaas on November 14th. Loads of people will wait for him on the Rijnkade, you might want to check it out. Arrival time is about 1pm.
Sinterklaas won’t be all by himself. He brings a ton of “Zwarte Pieten” (black Peters) to help him. This is because he is quite an old man, and he needs help wrapping all the gifts, writing rhymes to go along with the presents, keeping an eye out on all the children, keeping track on who was naughty and who was nice. These Zwarte Pieten are all very happy to help Sinterklaas, but in recent years there is a heated discussion going on (it starts every year around September -if not sooner) among adults whether these Zwarte Pieten are actually slaves or not. Should we not paint these people black, but color them in every color of the rainbow, or should we stick to tradition and keep them black. There seems to be two camps of passionate people with strong believes about the subject. I try not to get too mixed up in this, personally.
From this point on, when Sinterklaas takes his 1st step on Dutch soil again, there will be no sleeping until December 5th. The thought of him coming to your home will keep you awake. Chances increase when you put your shoe in from of the heater, fire place or cat door, along with a nice drawing you made him, some pepernoten and a carrot for his horse Americo. (Did I mention he has a horse? He rides it while goes from rooftop to rooftop, seriously! I’m not making this up people!)
When you have been nice, and you are lucky enough he came to your house, you’ll get a small present and maybe a chocolate letter (Or, when I was young, we would get chocolate cigarettes -again, not making this up…). But the real anxiety comes when December 5th is near. On this day, right before you have to go to bed, and are sad Sinterklaas forgot all about you, a big stash of gifts appear in the shower, livingroom, toilet, closet, on the doorstep, just minutes after you left any participatory place, or in the shed where your mum made you check if you locked your bike. This is until you reach 6 or 7 years old, that is when your parents, a class mate or sibling tells you that Sinterklaas is not real, and you get your 1st sense of that life can be cruel.
After this, you and your family will draw names and buy presents for the one that is on your ticket. This is the grownup style. To just wrap them is a little dull, so what most people do (just like I do every year with my friends) is make a “surprise”. You make something outof a box, or paper marche and hide the gifts in there. Policy is that this goes along with a rhime. A very creative process all together!
. Take a look here for more info on Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet.