Monday, December 5, 2011
Sinterklaas is Coming to Town
Sinterklaas is similar to who we know as Santa Claus or St. Nicholas or Father Christmas. One big difference though is that Sinterklaas does not have a weight problem and dresses much like a bishop. He doesn't travel around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and he doesn't have elves.
You better not cry, you better not pout...Sinterklaas is coming to town.
Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November, by boat from Spain. No frigid northern climate for this guy and only the best mode of transportation. When in Holland he travels around on a big white horse named Americo. And his helpers? Zwarte Pieten - little men with dark skin and colourful clothes. In other words, slaves. As they parade through the streets, these slaves make fun of the bystanders, much like a clown at the circus, and throw pepernoten - little candies - at the kids.
He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Over the next few weeks, Sinterklaas assesses the children, finding out if they've been "naughty or nice". And he keeps a tally in his big black leather-bound book. The children are invited to sit on his lap and admit to whether they have been good or bad. But heaven forbid they lie, or they've actually been bad because Sinterklaas has no qualms about stuffing the treacherous little humanoids in is sack and taking them back to Spain.
On December 5, Pakjesavond, Sinterklaas rides his horse over the roofs of houses while his assistants - see he doesn't even do the work himself - are sent down the chimney to get carrots left by the children. A little treat for the horse. I guess that's how he keeps his trim figure. No milk and cookies for this Saint. If you were good, you get presents or candy left in a shoe by the fireplace. But if you were bad? Nevermind those lumps of coal. You get kidnapped. In a sack.
From what I can glean, Holland still has the traditional Christmas we North Americans have come to know and love, celebrated on the same day, December 25. So in essence, they get TWO Christmases. And we get one.
But to be fair, this little bit of history has long since become a legend to keep the kinderen in line. He doesn't really steal the children. Rather, the naughty kids have to sing a song and they are forgiven.
Sinterklaas is actually a pretty great guy who the kids love and admire. Though he ain't so jolly, and he still keeps slaves.
But, hey, we're not all perfect!
I thought I would also share this great essay by David Sedaris that talks a little about Sinterklaas. Have a listen...and a good laugh.