In Holland, the Christmas tradition is a little different. There they celebrate Sinterklaas, traditionally on the 5th of December. And true to the nature of the Dutch, they celebrate it in style!
The name ‘Sinterklaas’ comes from ‘Sint Nicholas’. He has the same basis as Santa Claus. He was the patron saint of children and sailors. Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain, and rides with his horse over the rooftops, to deliver gifts through the chimney. He wears red bishop's robes. He has a black helper called ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Peter). This helper has Moorish origins.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to the Sinterklaas evening, you place your shoe in front of the fireplace. Of course, it used to be clogs, but today any shoe will do. You also leave carrots or hay, and water for the horse. The next morning, when you wake up, Sinterklaas has left small gifts. He has a book with the names of all the children, so he knows who was naughty, and who was good. The good children get sweets, the naughty ones get ‘de roe’ – a spanking with the broom used to sweep the chimney.
On the day of the Sinterklaas celebration, children welcome Sinterklaas by singing songs, and then ‘Zwarte Piet’ throws hands full of ‘peper noten’, a small spicy biscuit, into the room. He brings with him a big bag of gifts. Often, these gifts come with humorous poems and riddles, often teasing the receiver. It is uncanny how well Sinterklaas knows all the family members.. ;-)
There are many traditional eats around this celebration. As mentioned before, there are ‘peper noten’, a little hard biscuit. You get a chocolate letter, the first letter of your name. ‘Spekulaas’, another traditional Dutch biscuit, is also eaten.
I have never experienced a Sinterklaas celebration in Holland, but I am told that it is incredible. Apparently, a steam boat does really arrive, and Sinterklaas is seen to disembark. To many Dutch people, Sinterklaas is a bigger event than Christmas. Everybody decorates their houses and streets and shops.
Growing up in South Africa, with Dutch parents, we continued the tradition. Firstly because it is part of our Dutch heritage, but also because my religious parents preferred to keep the ‘gifting’ and commercial and silly aspects away from the spiritual nature of the Christ celebration.
Now that we are adults, we still celebrate Sinterklaas as a family together. Although we all have South African partners, and South African kids, we still get together in late November/early December, and celebrate. Although it has become our family tradition, it is also practical – in December some of our families go on holiday, or spend Christmas with their in-laws. This way we get to have our family celebration, and the freedom to go away.
Although traditional Sinterklaas foods and music and decorations are difficult to get here, there is a large Dutch bakery in Edenvale that we get lots of goodies from. For the rest we improvise, or do without.
all images used here, were found here.