Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sinterklaas is coming to town!

It's that time of the year again! Sinterklaas has arrived with his steamboat in Holland!

Sinterklaas is a holiday celebrated in the Netherlands on 5 December (the eve of the feast day of St. Nicholas (6 December)) and in Flanders on 6 December, where presents are given, in particular to children. Adults tend to give eachother tongue in cheek gifts that are hidden in home made creations, often referring to some 'mistake' that the receiver made earlier in the year. The 'surprise' is accompanied by a poem, that ridicules the receiver of the gift.

Since my girls still believe and they follow Sinterklaas on Dutch TV, they are asking me when they can put up their shoe under the shimney. I explained to them that first Sinterklaas has to go to all the children in Holland and THEN he comes and visits us here in South Africa. So soon they can celebrate this Dutch tradition too!!

Here a trailer of the Dutch news cast that is daily on TV in November and beginning of December and a pre view of the new movie. And the girls are following this every day!

In Holland, children couldn't care less about Santa or Father Christmas. They know he's not real but just a man in a fat suit. The man they are waiting for, and who gives them their presents is Sinterklaas, along with Zwarte Piet, his helper. (note: of course this is not the case for every child, but in general Sinterklaas is more exciting! The whole atmosphere around it is so much fun!)

Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas, is a bishop dressed in red robes and a red mitre, and he arrives in Holland (and Belgium) on a steamboat from Spain. This year he will arrive on the 17th of November. Kids wait anxiously at the harbor for him to show up. The boat does not only bring Sinterklaas, but also his helpers, Zwarte Pieten, black men and women who are acrobats, jugglers, and hand out sweeties to the children. They are also the ones who keep track of who's been naughty or nice, so parents keep telling their children to be careful because 'Zwarte Piet can see and hear everything!'

After Sinterklaas has arrived, children can start putting their shoes out in front of the fire (or radiator as the case may be) for him at night. They will put a bowl of water next to it and a carrot in it for Sinterklaas' horse, on which he rides the rooftops, and usually a letter to Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, to let them know what they'd like to get. Just putting your shoes out isn't enough, you have to sing a few songs too! There are lots of special Sinterklaas songs, about the gifts he might bring, the sweeties, his helper Zwarte Piet and how they come through the chimneys (hence Zwarte Piet being black) to bring it all to the children.

Then, if you're lucky and have been good enough, you will find a little something in your shoe. Chocolate coins, chocolate initials, marzipan figures (typically Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, but also boats, carrots and shoes), or even a little toy, but nothing big. That's for Sinterklaasavond, Sinterklaas night, the evening of the 5th of december.

That evening, Sinterklaas will bring his presents to all those who have been good this year. Sinterklaas keeps track of all this in a big book, red with a gold cross on it. Some children are lucky enough to have Sinterklaas come visit their home, others will find a big bag of gifts on their doorstep, in the loft or sometimese they'll find gifts on the dinner table the next morning. It's a very magical time for young kids.

But then comes the time of doubt and disbelief. Maybe Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet aren't real. He did look a lot like the neighbour... And wasn't that Dad's hand throwing sweets in the living room when you weren't looking? And that letter that Sint wrote, that looked like Mum's handwriting....

By the time children are 8 or 9, they will have figured out (or have been told by their classmates) that Sint isn't real and their parents have been fibbing. As sad and heartbreaking as this news can be, it does open the door to a whole new ritual: lootjes trekken, or drawing names to figure out who you need to buy a present for, something that's done in clubs, families and even schools.

But buying presents isn't all: you have to write a poem and sign it with 'Sint and Piet' in which you will tease the person you've bought for, and give some hints about what the present might be, and you need to 'wrap' it in a so called surprise.

A surprise is something you yourself have crafted, and which takes the mick out of the person you're buying for, or is something that they like, or something they don't want anyone to know. It could be anything, from a giant lipstick for the girl who can't get enough of looking at herself in the mirror to stinky socks for your smelly brother to a huge bucket of sticky stuff for your mum to wade through.

Sinterklaas can cause an awful lot of stress. Not only do you have to buy for someone, but thinking of what surprise to make them and actually crafting it as well as writing a poem can be difficult. In lots of homes there will be 'keep out' signs on bedroom doors, and people yelling to each other about where they left the sticky tape and glue, or how come they can't find the scissors or needle and thread. But come Sinterklaas avond it will all be worth it.

Sinterklaas is slowly losing it from his cousin Santa. Shops owners seem to be more interested in a commercial Christmas than this Dutch tradition, but I would hate to see this wonderful tradition go.

So even though we now live abroad, I'm trying to keep the spirit of Sinterklaas alive. We will be watching Sint's arrival in Holland on telly for sure! And who knows, he might even send a Zwarte Piet over who will put something in our shoes. I have been a good girl this year, after all.... (source: Eveline Hessels)

See my posts about Sinterklaas from 2008 en 2009 here, here and here.

This year the girls don't want to go and visit him at school, but we will see him and his helpers at the Dutch golf open we are going to soon. So more pictures will follow...

After coming back from our Thanksgiving trip the girls wanted to see all the sinterklaas news we had taped, so they were updated again what is going on in Holland... as usual they are not sitting on the couch, but this time instead of sitting on the table they decided to lay down :-)

And they were also excited to put the shoe in front of the chimney in the hopes they get some surprises in there!! Exciting times for the kids this week!!

Very concentrated watching the Zwarte Pieten on TV.

Are you celebrating Sinterklaas??


Maci Miller said...

What a great tradition! My aunt is Serbian and I believe that day is also called Saint Nick's Day in some European countries. Have a fun time celebrating!

BTW, thanks for that bread recipe. May try that this week. I always called those pans Dutch ovens, too. Only referred to it as a French oven because that is what Le Crueset called it on the box. In any case, I LOVE cooking with it! Cooks and cleans like a dream!

Wendy said...

Awesome stuff as always, Mireille! Love learning about all these great traditions from your native country and all the places you've visited and lived in!

Mireille said...

Yeah, we try to keep the traditions up since our girls are 3rd Culture kids and most of them don't really have a sense of belonging to anywhere... so hopefully this helps!


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