Saturday, December 5, 2009


Americans would consider this the "Dutch Christmas" because this is the day children (if they're good) receive presents from Sinterklaas (Santa Claus).

It all begins mid-November when Sinterklaas arrives from Spain on his steamboat. He brings, not just gifts, but his white horse, and his zwarte pieten (black Peters; they're Santa's little helpers and are black from going down so many chimneys).

When they arrive, the black Peters carry switches for all the naughty children, and they throw pepernoten to all the good children. (I guess I should explain "pepernoten." These are mini "gingersnaps" that are round or square, and not flat.)

The thought of little black men carrying around switches to spank naughty children sounds kind of scary (and if you're really naughty, you get put in Sinterklaas' sack and brought back to Spain with him!), but that aspect about them is overwhelmed with the goodies they pass out to ALL the children. They do tricks, ride unicycles, act silly, toss pepernoten to the people, etc--really, they're comparable to clowns.

Every evening after Sinterklaas' arrival, children set their shoes out for the night. Sometimes they'll leave a carrot for Sinterklaas' horse, and they sing a song, asking him to come and leave them something. Some mornings children awake to pepernoten in their shoes, straw, candy, chocolate letters, or a small toy.

On the evening of December 5th, children enjoy time with family (singing songs, playing games, etc), then a hard knock sounds on the door: BANG, BANG, BANG! Children either run to the door, or get scared a run away from it. When they, or the parents, open the door, they find a big burlap sack full of toys! Whoo, hooo!

What do the Dutch do on December 25th? They celebrate the birth of Christ. They have Christmas trees and all of that, but they don't exchange gifts on Christmas. Also, they have TWO Christmas days! December 25th and the 26th! Nice, huh?

Don't you just love the differences in cultures? It's interesting how we all have one thing in common, Santa Claus.

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