Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet ~Saint Nicolas & Black Pete

Anticipation season has started in the Dijkstra household! The girls are asking me almost every day....well more a few times a day: When is Sinterklaas Kapoentje coming?? He has arrived on the Dutch TV with his steamboat from Spain...so the girls are following this daily and are wondering when they can put their shoe in front of the chimney, start singing their songs, add a carrot and some water for the horse. Now I see you thinking....are we missing here something, what is this? Well, it is a Dutch tradition, see more below, I tried to explain it to you. But there is a festival on December 5th that all young children in Holland celebrate: Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet. The holy man who arrives with his helpers on a steamboat from Spain, and he is celebrating his Bday by giving all the kids in Holland candy and gifts, but if you are naughty you will dissapear in the hemp bag from Black Pete and he takes you home on the steamboat....anticipation galore in our house....are we naughty or nice??

Sinterklaas tradition in the Netherlands
Traditionally, in mid-November, two weeks before his celebrated Feast Day, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by boat from his home in Spain (it is widely believed that Spanish sailors brought the legend of Saint Nicholas to the Netherlands). Accompanied by his white horse and his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, he arrives in the Netherlands to signify the start of the holiday season.
This event is broadcast live, and each year Sinterklaas arrives in a different city. Many people from across the country welcome Sinterklaas at the harbour and watch him parade through the city's streets. During the two weeks before his "birthday", it is said that Sinterklaas rides across rooftops at night on his white horse, listening through chimneys for good children. Nice children that leave carrots in shoes for Sinterklaas' horse, wake up to shoes full of candy and treats. However, it is the eve before his Feast Day (Sinterklaasavond) that is the most highly anticipated by children, and the busiest day for Sinterklaas. This is the big day when Sinterklaas delivers presents to good children and coal to children who have been naughty.
On Sinterklaasavond (5 December), children anxiously wait for Sinterklaas to knock on their door, and when he does, children know that if they run to their door, a sack full of gifts will await them on their doorstep. Following Sinterklaas' visit, each member of the family takes turns handing out presents and unwrapping them. Names are printed on each gift, and almost every present is accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek poem about the gift's recipient.

Families celebrate Sinterklaas' Feast by singing songs and indulging in a feast of their own, which consists mainly of sweets like marzipan, chocolate initials, pepernoten (ginger biscuits) and hot chocolate with whipped cream. The image of Sinterklaas The traditional image of Sinterklaas is one of a bishop, clothed in a white garment and wrapped in a red cloak. He wears a tall red and gold hop'smiter (head dress) that covers his long white curly hair. He usually wears white gloves, and in one hand carries a tall metal staff and in the other hand the book of names. Like the North American concept of Santa Claus, he has a long white beard, however, unlike his North American cousin, he does not have a belly "like a bowl full of jelly".

Zwarte Piet: Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) always wear colourful and jovial costumes. They are adorned with gold earrings and hats with feathers and are generally considered simple and full of beans characters. Their role is to assist Sinterklaas by performing various holiday tasks, like delivering presents down chimneys and recording names of naughty and nice children in Sinterklaas' book of names.
Despite his colourful image, Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, is a very controversial character in the Netherlands. He is called Black Pete because of his dark colouring, and while some attribute his skin colour to the soot from the chimneys he slides down, others criticise the character for being an old-fashioned stereotype and racist symbol of slavery.
The origin of Black Pete's character is not known, however many speculations have been made. Some believe that Black Pete is a symbol of the medieval Christian idea of evil, when black was often associated with evil. Others believe it is more probable that Black Pete is Saint Nicholas' Moorish servant, but with the absence of any historical proof, there is no way of knowing exactly what Black Pete represents.


The girls have picked out their gifts already, they desperately want Triops. These are prehistoric monsters also known as dinosaur shrimp that millions of kids have brought to life simply by adding water to eggs that are in suspended animation! Creepy crawlers that comes in a kit, you just add water and it grows. They make great pets....what they claim...I am not so sure about it (Yikes). But so the girls are really good these days, helping cleaning up the table after dinner and these kind of small chores, asking all the time: Mommy are we good, do you think Sinterklaas Kapoentje sees this?? (I tell them the whole time, that Sinterklaas has eyes and ears everywhere!!)

So we are in a good season ;-)....life is good...life is easy ;-)
How about you?
Ciao, Mireille

2 comments:

annet said...

Zo leuk ......echt jeugd sentiment.......Jing Lan heeft ook naar de aankomst van Sinterklaas gekeken en zei dat de Sint maar mooi bij oma in Nederland moest blijven.....ha ha ha ....partypoepert.......

Hirally said...

Now I know what Sinterklaas is all about!!! And why some formet co-worker of mine joke about leaving me a piece of coal :)

Hirally

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