November 30, 2010

Sint Nicolaas

I can't help it... I love Sint Nicolaas. The whole celebration of Sint Nicolaas in The Netherlands is so charming. Okay, i understand that Sint Nicolaas has had his share of controversy. There's the hoo-hah about him hitting the bad kids with a stick and putting the really nasty ones in his bag and bringing them back to Spain. (Yes, Spain, Sint Nicolaas Spain) As far as hitting kids with sticks, this really wasn't uncommon back in the day. But, he's a man of his times and has refrained from beating children for many years now. And about being put in a sack and brought back to Spain... Dear Sint Nicolaas, I've been a very bad girl. Please take me.

Of course, there is the whole 'Zwarte Piet' (Black Pete) issue. Apparently, they used to be Sint Nicolaas' slaves. Not unlike other unseemly occurrences within the church, they tried to cover this up. They said that they weren't slaves and boldly claimed that they weren't even black! "They are, uh, just black from the soot." Hmmm, i haven't really figured this out. First of all, if they were just 'dirty' how are their clothes so clean? And, is it just a coincidence that they all have an afro? On the other hand, they are dressed to the nines... hats, jackets and trousers made of velvet and trimmed in gold, snowy white broad lace collars and a large exotic feather in their cap. I don't think slaves would be dressed so finely. Actually, they seem to carry a very high rank. Whatever the story is... to me they are cute, they have bags full of cookies and are very good dancers. Bring 'em on!

Back to the charming parts. Here's a short list...
• The Sint and his helpers arrive on a beautiful steamboat about a month before Sint Nicolaas Day which is on Dec. the 5th.
• Also on board is his white horse with grey spots called 'Amerigo'
• Cookies called 'Pepernoten' are thrown to the kids. Apparently these cookies are chiseled out of the mountains in Spain by the Zwart Piet dudes.
• Instead of a stocking, The Dutch children put their shoe in front of their fireplace with a carrot in it for Amerigo.
• The Zwart Piets leave sweets behind in the shoes and not just on one night, on many nights! Often this is a chocolate letter. A big 'S' for Shelley for example. Mmm

On the 5th of Dec. Sint Nicolaas flies from rooftop to rooftop upon Amerigo handing out the big loot. Actually, the gifts tend to be quite humble and the whole celebration of Sint Nicolaas is really a fest just for kids. But i ain't buying that part. Why should kids always get to have all the damn fun?! In any case, it's not the big shopping free-for-all that occurs in the states during Christmas. Traditionally, family and friends make surprises for each other, fun handmade things accompanied by a hand written poem.
What i also really like is how the media 'covers' the Sint Nicolaas festivities. They have a Sint Nicolaas' Journal every day so you can follow everything the Sint & The Piets are up to. Do i watch it? Yes i do. Childish i know. But hey, i didn't grow up here. I've got some catchin' up to do. It's paying off too. I've already received a chocolate letter in my shoe. Apparently i was just too nice this year after all. I'm going to have to do something really nasty before the 5th otherwise i can just forget about that trip to Spain.

To hear a hilarious account of this story by David Sedaris click here to listen to '6 to 8 Black Men'.


no said...

I´ve enjoyed this Shelley, very cute post! We´ve got snow here in Dublin, it´s lovely, fire lit every night, cosying it up baby! Xs

Shelley Rickey said...

Hey Nora!
I just saw a little star shining above Dublin on my visitors map... i thought it might be you. : )
Ah, cozy nights by the fire. Lovely isn't it?!
Big HUG,

Kittie Howard said...

Hey, Shelley,

There's a star shining for you in Virginia. I absolutely, totally, and completely LOVED your post. Learned soooo much, told my hub about the chocolate letter in the shoe. He smiled! His father came from Antwerp when he was a kid, went to a school in New Hampshire where most of the kids spoke German as there wasn't a 'Flemish quarter'.

Anyway, when I was a kid, I used to wonder a lot what it was like in The Netherlands during the Christmas season. So I'm really digging your post. And this controversy about stuff from another era is baggage those bah humbug people should drop. Times change (or lie, as in the case of the church); it's spirit that counts.

If there's no letter in my shoe, then Spain it is...hey, gotta atone for my sins!

Shelley Rickey said...

: )
Glad you enjoyed it!
Antwerp, nice place... great food and the best beer in the world in Belgium. Oh, and chocolate... beautiful chocolate.

One year during the nineties they tried to do a politically correct Piet. They had purple, red, yellow Piets. So dumb. Only lasted one year. Now we're back to good ol' Black Pete. So cute. I send my mom St. Nicolaas wrapping paper every year which she uses during Christmas. She also adores Black Pete.

Well, you guys have a wonderful (and safe) trip down to New Orleans. I'm sure you're going to have a beautiful time. Don't forget the bombfires along the River on Christmas Eve!