Itís been a long time since Lynn and I have been
in America (or so it seems) and we have a vague recollection that
next week is Thanksgiving. (I did have some Americans express
surprise that the Dutch donít celebrate Thanksgiving, but thatís
another story and I digress). One of the big things that happens on
Thanksgiving is that Santa Claus comes to town and everyone knows
that he visits all the kids on Christmas Eve leaving presents for
all the good little boys and girls.
The Christmas celebration is a little different
here. The present exchange isnít at Christmas; itís on
Day, December 6. And without a Thanksgiving parade to welcome Santa
to town, what does one do?
Sinterklaas came to town last Saturday,
November 13, and it was a big celebration for the kids at the
harbor. He comes every year by steamship and then rides a horse.
Forget reindeer. And no North Pole for this dude;
in Spain (where itís warm the whole year - this guy is no dope) and
heís accompanied by
Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) his sidekick and
helper. There were actually hundreds of
Zwarte Piets, all in black
face make-up which is available in all the stores along with the
appropriate costume for the kids to dress up. Can you imagine that
going over real well in the U.S.?
Zwarte Piet is a Moor, a race of
people from Morocco who were (or "are" Ė Iíve never seen a current
reference to the Moors, only historical) black. In the following
weeks before St. Nicholas Day, Sinterklaas goes about the country to
determine if the children have been well-behaved. He and his Zwarte
Piet helpers visit children in schools, hospitals, department
stores, and even at home. The bakeries are busy making speculaas,
molded spice cookies of the saint. During this time children put out
their shoes with wish-lists and a carrot or hay, or maybe a saucer
of water for the horse. When St. Nicholas happens by, the next
morning children find chocolate coins or initial letter, candy
treats, and little gifts in their shoes. Everyone hopes for sweets,
not coal or a little bag of salt.
The Spanish, by the way, donít share in this
tradition. They probably have there own version and, I suppose, get
a chuckle out of the Dutch Sinterklaas living in their country. From
what Iíve learned, this tradition goes back to antiquity when the
Moors conquered Spain and the Spanish conquered the Dutch or
something. Iíve discovered my European history is very lacking.
Christmas day is also different. Itís a two day
religious holiday, one day for momís side of the family, one day for
dadís. But this is one of those years of intense grumbling. December
25 and 26 both fall on weekend days this year. Unlike in America,
where if a holiday is on the weekend, itís observed by a day off on
Friday or Monday, that doesnít happen here. It is what it is and
local folks are not happy.
Youíll notice that Sinterklaas dresses
differently from Santa Claus. He has the familiar red but itís in
the form of a bishopís robe and he wears a bishopís hat. He also
always has that stick with the gold hook that is called, I think, a