Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sinterklaas is in town...

It's that time of the year again for Dutch children! Sinterklaas is coming to town. He arrived in Holland a few weeks ago on his steamboat and on Saturday he will arrive at the Dutch school here in Joburg!! The girls are so excited and putting their shoe with carrots and water in front of the fireplace and hoping for some treats the next morning!

Traditionally, in the weeks between the arrival of Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piet and December 5, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the fireplace chimney of the coal fired stove or fireplace, or, in modern times, next to the central heating. The shoe is to have a carrot or some hay in it and a bowl of water "for Sinterklaas' horse," and the children sing a Sinterklaas song; the next day they will find some candy or a small present in their shoes. When a house has no chimney, Sinterklaas or Black Pete is said to enter using his special key that fits on every door in the Netherlands.

Typical Sinterklaas candy traditionally includes: mandarin oranges, pepernoten, letter-shaped pastry filled with almond paste or chocolate letter (the first letter of the child's name made out of chocolate), speculaas (sometimes filled with almond paste), chocolate coins and marzipan figures. Newer candy includes kruidnoten (a type of shortcrust biscuit or gingerbread-biscuits) and a figurine of Sinterklaas made out of chocolate and wrapped in painted aluminum foil.

Children are told that Black Pete enters the house through the chimney, which also explains his black face and hands, and will leave a bundle of sticks ("roe") or a small bag of salt in the shoe instead of candy if the child has been bad. If they have been really bad, Black Pete may take them back to Spain in his sack, a tradition now frowned upon under the influence of modern child psychology.

Traditionally Saint Nicholas brings his gifts at night, and many Belgian and Dutch children still find their presents on the morning of December 6. Later in The Netherlands adults started to give each other presents on the evening of the 5th; then older children were included, and today many young children also get their presents on Saint Nicholas' eve.

Poems can still accompany bigger gifts as well, though instead of being brought by Sinterklaas, people will draw names for an event comparable to Secret Santa. Gifts are to be creatively disguised (for which the Dutch use the French word "surprise"), and are usually accompanied by a humorous poem which often teases the recipient for well-known bad habits or other character deficiencies.

This is one of the songs the children sing in front of the chimney...

Such a fun time for the children, and probably it will be the last year that we celebrate Sinterklaas in this way. Because as soon as the children don't believe anymore most families only celebrate Xmas... now we do BOTH! Or they do celebrate it with giving only 1 gift to 1 member of your family by picking a name out of a hat and you create a funny gift with a poem for only that person you have on your tag. This is called 'pakjes avond'.

For now Jasmine and Juliet are so excited to meet 'Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet' at school on Saturday, more pictures on that later. See last year's event here and here.

Have a Terrific Thursday, I am off to my cooking class today, we call our group: DOT = Diversity On the Table :-)

Ciao, Mireille

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