Sinterklaas is the best known Expat
And you probably know this Sinterklaas is a national beloved figure (and Expat) here in the Netherlands. The Holy Man Sinterklaas is adored especially by kids under the age of 10. This bishop who is originally from Myra-Turkey (now that’s Diversity) is believed to live in Spain. He doesn’t speak Spanish, nor Turkish, but is fluent in Dutch. This old white-bearded man in a red robe, named Sint (Saint) travels every year on a steam-boat to the Netherlands. And on his annual arrival, somewhere mid November, with his support crew of Pieten (Peters), to carry all the presents.
Sinterklaas is an Expat Hero
This childrens’ hero, Sinterklaas, has a large book in which he records who has been good. Or bad. Parents tell their children: “Only children who behaved well over the past year will receive presents on December 5th on “Pakjes-avond’(present-night)”. Sinterklaas, the old and respected man, on a white horse, is always accompanied by his athletic support crew of Pieten. They climb the Dutch roofs and throw all presents into the chimney. As you can see, a lot of details are quite similar to Santa, but in a different way.
Dutch Culture in celebrating Sinterklaas
Most presents from the Sint come with small poems. And in these poems you can find sometimes some sarcasm and irony. Which is allowed and even appreciated. There might be even a lesson in this accompanying poem. And the Dutch just love to do that to one another, tease each other a little bit. Maybe this is even the most indirect way they communicate within families, their Sinterklaas is the channel!
After kids understand Sinterklaas is a myth, families change the tradition into a family night with ‘surprises’. They pick random names and for this specific name, surprises are crafted to symbolise something. The surprise is a throw-away thing, may times made out of cardboard boxes or other (free) materials. Sometimes a high quality object made with skill and effort. But also sometimes a real nasty one with sticky elements. The present is mostly hidden in the surprise and all the fun is around the present.
Diversity and it’s impact on Dutch traditions
Dutch Culture has had many influences throughout the last decades, and the discussion of Sinterklaas’s Pieten crew has been one of Diversity in relation to slavery & discrimination. This explains why we now have all sorts of people in Sinterklaas’ crew, their faces painted in all different colors of the rainbow.
Diversity is enriching
I remember visiting an American family in New York once; after having lived in Holland for about 4 years, they still celebrated Sinterklaas back home in the US. They just loved the tradition’, they said. And it’s a fun way to express deep and warm feelings, with some critical and edgy remarks here and there. This made Sinterklaas, the best known Expat in the Netherlands, a form of Diversity in this family.
So our question today: Do you celebrate Sinterklaas? Or Santa? Or both (maybe your kids are cheering now).
And how do you do it? Let us know how Diversity is integrating some Dutch traditions into your family life for you.