For more information and links about this great blogfun, visit 'Twas Brillig and company and have fun reading all their great stories. In keeping with the theme I am currently writing about, today I give you tales from my family's experience with SinterKlaas and his helpers.
Although based on a real Archbishop of Myra, Turkey, who lived from 271 AD to December 6, 342 AD, part of the legend of today's SinterKlaas is that he is alive today and visits the Netherlands to celebrate his birthday! The other 11 months of the year he lives in Spain. So when he arrives in the Netherlands, you suddenly start seeing in the shops the "apples from Spain" which are actually oranges or mandarines. These are also popular treats given to children in their shoes which they place by the chimney or door along with a carrot or apple or hay for Sint's faithful steed Amerigo. Children also place their wishlists and drawings for SinterKlaas in their shoes. At times you will see Sint in the market in the center of town, accompanied by his faithful helpers (more about them in a later post). Children often line up to shake his hand and give him one of their drawings. And as SinterKlaas is a big fan of music and dancing, there is always a lot of that going on. I think there may be as many SinterKlaas songs as there are Christmas caroles! And every year there seems to be a new one added to the repertoire!
From the moment Sint and company arrive in the Netherlands, children have the opportunity to place their shoes every night by the door in the hopes of getting something (in some families he only comes on the weekends) Often this is a small treat, candy, sweet, piece of fruit, or toy. Sometimes it is something more useful such as school supplies, socks, a warm hat or gloves. But of course very special "SinterKlaas treats" are the pepernoten which are small, hard, round spice cookies (about the size of a large cherry). In flavor they are reminiscent of Gingersnaps or cinnamon cookies. Other treats are various marzipan sweets that come in all different shapes representing luck and various objects associated with this festival. And of course...chocolate. Remember the Dutch were the merchants who brought chocolate to the world, so of course this is an important part of the festival. Tradition has it that every child received a sweetbread that was shaped into the first letter of his or her name. But through the years this has slowly been replaced by chocolate letters in various manifestations. We have not only the typical milk chocolate, but also dark, white, hazelnut, mint, crispy, etc. And in families where the first names often have the same letters, the children often write to Sint to ask that their whole name be spelled out in chocolate letters (Sint doesn't usually go for this!)
In addition to the nightly visits to leave the smaller presents, on the day/afternoon/evening of 5.December, SinterKlaas often makes a personal visit to the children. Sometimes this occurs at school at a big party, sometimes at home in the presence of the assembled family. Of course to arrange such a visit, parents have to book months in advance! Most usually get a neighbor to put the sack of toys in front of the door and knock very loudly. For years we did this with our neighbors who had children older than ours.
One December 5th, when DD1 was 6 and DD2 3&1/2, I had my DH put them in the bath while I got the sack of toys out of the car and arranged for a neighbor to come and knock on our door. While I was outside, who should be walking down our street but SinterKlaas and one of his helpers! They had just finished a visit with one of our neighbors and were on their way to their next appointment. But as they saw me putting the sack by the door, they very kindly asked if they should knock for us!! Well of course! So I quickly got the kids out of the bath and into their robes in time to answer the door. And Sint and Piet brought in the sack and stayed for 5 minutes to take photos. Both girls were very reserved and shy, as I would expect them to be around any stranger. But what an impression! The whole experience was greatly expanded upon and embellished in the telling the next day at school. And of course especially as the presents they found in the sack were somehow exactly what they had wanted and asked Sint for and included some things they had not asked for but quickly fell in love with. The next year they were so excited during this period that every dark figure on the street must have been a Zwarte Piet.
But by the time DD1 was 8, she was starting to already have doubts about SinterKlaas. I had a very good and convincing story to cover the differences between SinterKlaas and Santa Claus (upcoming post), but some classmates at school and older children were telling her there was no such person and that it was the parents that brought the toys. That year I happened to be class Mom and therefore on the morning of 5.December I brought the girls to school and helped out at the party. Therefore I was at school the entire time.
So imagine their surprise when we returned home in the afternoon to find pepernoten and candy strewn throughout the hall, leading to a sack of toys in the living room! In fact, the trail went all the way up both sets of stairs into the top bedroom where I have my office. There were even candies on top of my desk in front of the window which was slightly open! The only possible explanation was that Sint and Piet had visited while we were out because there was no way anyone else could get onto the roof on the third floor and in through the window. And no one else would leave such a mess behind! And since my DH was traveling and did not return home until the evening, and the girls had seen me at school the entire day, the knew it could not have been their parents! So DD1 became a firm believer having hard evidence that she shared with anyone trying to convince her otherwise.