The Christmas festival that takes the whole of The Netherlands by storm. I’ve mentioned this briefly on my previous post but here I am going to go into more detail. There have already lots and lots of posts about it on WordPress and online but I wanted to add my two-penneth in. Traditionally the celebration run from the 1st – 5th December, Sinterklaas is aimed at the little children of the Netherlands.
I was amazed the first time I heard about it and even more dumb struck when I actually saw all the shenanigans played out first hand. Sinterklaas looks like The Pope in my opinion. He arrives by boat rather than sleigh and comes from Spain not the Nort Pole. Sinterklaas wears a red bishops hat, stereotypically riding a white horse, Sinterklaas is found walking round town with an entourage of Zwarte Pieten. This is where the “weirdness” comes in (you can choose to change that adjective but I’m fondly using the word ‘weird’). Picture a 1950’s GollyWog crossed with a Medieval court jester and your pretty much there. There is some from of trouble related to it every years and there have been many calls to ban it due to racisim or disrespect of many different types. The first day of Sinterklaas celebrations this year was accompanied by protests and people disrupting the family fun (if you click on this screenshot it will take you to the Daily Mail article).
The story is pretty similar to our idea of Santa Claus in that children are told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs of the houses on his horse and that a ‘Zwarte Piet’ will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and candy in their shoes. That’s a bit similar to the reindeer on the roof and the presents in the stockings.
So here is the official justification of this celebration that apparently has links to 343AD! St Nicolas’s Day is the 6th of December but the festivities climax on the eve of the 5th The day itself ends with songs and a nap-inducing feast, with treats like marzipan, chocolate letters, pepernoten (spice biscuits) and hot chocolate with whipped cream, not a bad old day in my opinion. You can read more about that here.…. www.iamsterdam.com/sinterklaas
I’ve been in The Netherlands for 2 Sinterklaas (not sure if the correct description is ‘events’ or ‘festivals’ or if you can pluralize Sinterklaas). I’ve heard the songs and the first time my best friends little brother and I left our shoes at the door only to wake up the next morning our presents inside (technically it was underneath the box was too big). There is even a Sinterklaas house in every major town, it’s a little like our version of Santa’s Grotto. Being two big kids when Gino and I visit one we got in for free. I think the door man felt sorry for him having to take an excited little English girl round and in an act of pity let us in.
So these Zwart Piet (who have an alter ego of a normal Dutch teenager but enjoy being painted and dressing up every year) are dancing and entertaining the children (and me!). Then we queued up to see Sinterklaas. I played into their hands good and proper, it was obvious that I was going to end up on Mr Sinterklaas’s knee even though I was totally embarrassed and mortified. I think the look on my face in this photo explains a lot!
Every town and shopping center has their own. I even got dragged off in some chariot to another ‘grotto’ in another town center. There is no escaping the madness. I have a newspaper article discussing the ‘political correctness’ of it all and there have been many debates over it, even UK press are talking about it for the first time this year. There have been many questions in the public eye as well as over dinner tables about the ‘Zwarte Piet’ reference literal translation being ‘Black Slave’. My initial view on it was shock. It would not be allowed in England. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing so blatantly in the streets and celebrated so openly. You can imagine my further shock when my Dutch friends revealed the fact that they too had been slaves once or twice before! I haven’t seen all that much photographic evidence from everyone to prove that fact more to the pity. I had heard that the idea behind the people painting themselves black was due to a lack of black people in the Netherlands to reenact it so they used what they had to had and came up with the idea of body painting white people. This year has seen the first variations of Zwarte Piet: Kaas Piet (you guessed it he’s painted yellow), Purple Piet and so forth.
I am going to leave you to your own opinion on this celebration but for me personally, it is their tradition that has been around for a very long time and personally I don’t see an issue with it. It is something that shocked me at first and as I have said you most definitely would not see it in the UK. I hope the Dutch manage to defend their traditions; I’d hate for us to have to change our traditions due to political correctness. What would be next: a thin Santa Claus due to the obesity crisis in England? Get a grip!
I was gifted my own little Piet. As much as he is supposed to be an annual decoration my little man stays out 365 days of the year. When I first had him he came round with me for a week or more in my handbag. You can seem my extensive album of photos HERE! I like to think that it is one of those traditions that will never die in The Netherlands. The old fashioned Dutch people wont let it. It captivates children of all ages, starts the Christmas cheer off early and I think it should be condoned in a way of celebration and sharing the wonder and magic of giving gifts in December even if they are sweets or little cookies. Obviously it can be used as a time to flash out on expensive gifts but the act of giving, in my opinion, does wonders for the soul no matter how big, small significant or insignificant it is. One other Sinterklaas tradition that I have never done and could have looked for when I was in Holland last week is my initial in chocolate. Sinterklaas gives the children a chocolate molded into their initial, you can only get them at this time of year plus the fact that I like chocolate, I’m surprised I’ve not made more fuss about this!
I want to leave you with a video that has made me chuckle from the moment I first saw it. I have used it on many occasions to quantify my claims that the Dutch are crazy when it comes to Sinterklaas traditions and entertaining the people.