If you (like me!) are an ex-pat living in the Netherlands, the whole idea of giving gifts on December 5th, writing a poem and seeing (very un-PC!!) little black elves (aka Zwarte Pieten) running around with Sinterklaas may seem a little foreign to you. So since I am married to a Dutch man, and have a 10 year old son who is half Dutch, I thought it might make sense to research the whole topic and find out WHY???
The following according to Wikipedia:
Netherlands Antilles; he is celebrated annually on Saint Nicholas’ eve (5 December) or, in Belgium, on the morning of 6 December. The feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of Amsterdam, children and sailors. He is the basis of the mythical holiday figure of Santa Claus in the United States. Sinterklaas is his usual name. The more formal name is Sint Nicolaas or Sint Nikolaas.
Sinterklaas is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dresses, dating back two centuries. These helpers are called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Petes). During the Middle-ages Zwarte Piet was a name for the devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas eve the devil was shackled and made his slave. Although the character of Black Pete later came to acquire racial connotations, his origins were in the devil figure. This racialization is reflected in the reworking of the characters’ mythos. Their blackness was racial, with Pete being an imported African servant of Saint Nicholas since 1850 (though some people say Pete was a slave who, when Sinterklaas bought him his freedom, was so grateful that he stayed to assist him). Today however, the more politically correct explanation is that Pete’s face is “black from soot” (as Pete has to climb through chimneys to deliver his gifts) is used.
Traditionally, in the weeks between his arrival and 5 December, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the fireplace chimney of the coal-fired stove or fireplace. In modern times, they may put them next to the central heating unit. They leave the shoe with a carrot or some hay in it and a bowl of water nearby “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.
Typical Sinterklaas treats traditionally include: hot chocolate, mandarin oranges, pepernoten, letter-shaped pastryalmond paste or chocolate letter (the first letter of the child’s name made out of chocolate), speculaasalmond paste), chocolate coins and marzipan figures. Newer treats include kruidnoten (a type of shortcrust biscuit or gingerbread biscuits) and a figurine of Sinterklaas made of chocolate and wrapped in colored aluminum foil. filled with (sometimes filled with
Poems can still accompany bigger gifts as well. Instead of such gifts being brought by Sinterklaas, family members may 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.
I have come to love this less commercial holiday, and the charm that comes with the writing of a poem about a loved one. We will be celebrating this weekend with some extended store hours to ensure all of our friends and neighbors have a chance to join us a for a cup of warm spicy mulled wine (aka gluwijn) on this cold Sinterklaas weekend.
Today, Friday 3 December we will be open until 9pm, Saturday 4 December from 9-5pm, and Sunday from 12-4pm. If you like the friendly festivities of good people, gezelligheid (coziness!), and a celebration with cheer please join us at La Buena Vida, because after all it’s the journey that counts!! Happy December 5th!!