Sinterklaas: A Dutch Festival!

Why does an old man bother to come to this soggy country when he could be having a great time in the sunshine by his pool in Spain? Why does he want to celebrate his hundred-something birthday with screaming children in overcrowded schools? And he doesn’t even receive any presents for the, he only gives away millions! Every year shortly before his birthday, Sinterklaas arrives with much fanfare in the Netherlands. This year he is expected to land on the 13th of November at the of Harderwijk and is expected to reach Eindhoven on the same day at 11.30 am! Forsaking the comfort of the convenient North Sea Ferries, he arrives in an old steam boat accompanied by his helpers, the “Zwarte Pieten” or the Black Petes. Saint Nicholas or Sint for short is then transferred from the boat to a “schimmel”, which literally translates as fungus, but refers to his white horse with grey spots. Kids flock around him and are so excited that they don´t see that Sint´s beard is drooping a bit. The Zwarte Pieten throws sweets at the waiting children from bulky brown jute bags. The cleverer kids bring bags from home so that they can collect the “pepernoten”, the cinnamon balls made of dough and the colorful soft sugary sweets, the “suikergoed”.
Once here, the poor old guy travels on his pampered horse through the nights, climbing slippery roofs and pushing sweets and small gifts that include Barbie houses, and Lego castles down the not so clean chimneys (the million houses with kids under the age of eight. Fortunately Sint has his henchmen who help him cover the ground. Tons of sweets are consumed every morning by innocent children in what appears to be an occasion sponsored by dentists!  The horse, if he is lucky, gets a piece of old bread and a carrot in return, which is quickly confiscated by the parent so it can go into the shoe the next night (the grocery branch couldn´t get in on this scheme!). At night, when the shoe is set in front of the fireplace or nowadays the central heating or the front door, the kids sing special songs, the “sinterklaasliedjes” with lyrics like: “throw something in my little boot”; “oh! come have a look what I found in my shoe” or “the sweet ones do get goodies and the bad ones get beaten with the rod”. Of course the opportunity to teach children something is not missed.
In the beginning of December, Sinterklaas also visits schools. The guy really goes through a rough time. One day he looks greyer than the other; his voice becomes increasingly hoarse with each new school. His outfits change by the hour and so does height! Children recite small poems or perform a dance or a play. Sint loves it! He has a big book with a note on every child.
The grand finale takes place on the night of 5th December or the following morning. It is different in each family. Kids sing away loudly, parents sing even louder and move around strangely, attempting to distract children so they don´t see the neighbour hauling big trash bags of toys around to the front or back door (parents keep the bags because the broken toys can be discarded in them in the weeks that follow). Childless neighbors come in handy at this time. They are instructed to come at such and such time, and to knock on this and this door or window and then to leave fast! Sinterklazeen can also be hired to come round to the house on the night of the fifth.
Children above the age of eight or nine do not believe in the myth of Sinterklaas anymore. It is hard to judge whether they did so before? Did they notice why Sinterklaas looks different in the mall and at school or why Zwarte Piet’s leg was white when his stocking dropped? No point in doubting so long as the presents keep rolling in. When the secret is finally broken the youngsters and adults do a “surprise” (pronounce as in French). They draw lots a few weeks before and buy small presents for the chosen one. They wrap it up in a very funny way and write a wicked poem. This is the time to take anonymous revenge or embarrass your family member! Your dad who always needs to watch football, make him a red card. Your brother who is always behind MSN, write him a poem about autism. Make a HUGE mirror for your sister!
After the sixth all is forgotten. How and where Sint Nicolas leaves nobody knows? Isn´t he staying? Did he get immigration papers? How does he survive? Does he have a job, a work permit? Does he pay taxes? Does he have double nationality? He is older than 67, that is sure!
An old joke goes as follows:
How do you know Sinterklaas is so old?
He has fungus between his legs!
On November 13 at 11.30hrs Sinterklaas will moor in Eindhoven. (Kanaaldijk noord, crossing Jeroen Boschlaan). The mayor will receive him and afterwards he and his Zwarte Pieten go to the centre of Eindhoven. Do go and have a look at this very typical Dutch folklore.
By Irene.

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