Sunday, December 2, 2012

A hint of Sint

Sinterklaas has finally arrived in Holland!! Elliot and I rode our bikes around the whole city and all the canals, chasing his boat to get the good shots. And then we waited forever til the parade started. Finally we saw him!!

No, this is not Santa Claus, it's Sinterklaas. Very different person. Here are a few major differences:

Sint is tall and slim, not fat at all, and he doesn't say "ho, ho, ho" or "Merry Christmas." He is originally from Spain, where the weather is better, and travels to Holland by steamboat (no reindeers) with his helpers, Zwarte Pieten (or singularly, Zwarte Piet). These helpers are always way too hyped up on sugar and are smudged with "ash" from "chimneys" (which doesn't explain the curly hair, but I'll leave it at that).

He comes to Holland at the end of November, and there's always some sort of catastrophe along the way. The boat left without the sack of gifts; Sint's horse got sick; there was a leak in the boat; he forgot his list of all the children and gifts; there's no room on the boat for the kruidnoten (small gingerbread-like cookies that are essential for the holiday). You get the idea. Everyone is in on it, like news media, newspapers, TV.

After he (just barely) makes it to Holland, there's a parade in each city. He hangs out for a while, then finally goes by horse from city to city, village to village, handing out small gifts on December 5. This is not a national holiday, but most Dutch families celebrate the evening by giving numerous small gifts to each other (think Secret Santa style), reading hand-written rhyming poems about their secret santa and the goings-on of the previous year, and finally eating lots of kruidnoten and other Dutch treats.

 Elliot and I decided to do our own Sint evening on the 5th, including the poems and kruidnoten. I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. Looking forward to seeing those hand written rhymes....and lots of photos! What about chocolate letters?

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  3. Oh but Sinterklaas is most probably the origin of Santa Claus(as it was brought by the dutch settlers that arrived to New York):
    "From the late sixteenth century inwards, North America, which had not yet been colonized by the Spanish and the Portuguese lay open to other European conquerors, who hoped to find there the same riches the Iberians had found in Central and South America. Thus at the mouth of the Hudson river the Dutch established a colony trading post. From 1629 on a number of Dutch families moved inland, creating several extensive states. A number of cities and villages bear witness to this episode as does some of the Dutch-style architecture. New York was first founded by the Dutch on Manhattan island, and aptly named New Amsterdam. It had its "wall", hence "wall-street", and nearby, they founded another village called "Breukelen", hence "Brooklyn". (1)During this period the Dutch settlers tried to import their traditons, folklore and festivities. "In New York, in 1810 John Pintard published a pamphlet with illustrations of Alexander Anderson in which he called for making Saint Nicholas patron Saint of New York and to start a Sinterklaas tradition. He was apparently assisted by the Dutch, because in his pamphlet he included an old Dutch Sinterklaas poem with English translation. In the Dutch poem, Saint Nicholas is referred to as 'Sancta Claus' " (2)
    (1). A Short History of the Netherlands: From Prehistory to the Present Day. Prof. dr. P.J. Rietbergen. Bekking & Blitz Uitgevers b.v., Amersfoort.
    (2)Saint Nicholas and the origin of Santa Claus. Article by the St. Nicholas Center.

  4. Finally - what a relief to find out what Sinterklaas really looks like. Good mugshot. Amanda's comment prompted me to do more research on the matter. I was overwhelmed with the volume (and quality) of research that's out there on the origins of Saint Nicholas. Although there does seem to be some correlation and overlap between Sinterklaas and Saint Nicholas, from what I read, it was an anonymous book in 1821, the Children's Friend that evolved the Santa Claus character. In this book Santa arrives from the north in a sleigh with flying reindeer and first appears on Christmas Eve instead of December 6. For the rest, the two characters seems to have a lot in common in that the notion of Santa rewards children with good behavior.

    What I like most about Sinterklaas, though, is that it appears to be less commercially rooted and more family oriented than what we have here in the U.S. So now we know why the Sinterklaas business model would never work here. It would be devastating for the Walmarts.

  5. Great pics as always and thanks for the history lessons! I'll be watching out to see how you and Elliot's Sint evening was. Aunt Brenda


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