Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sinterklaas Weirdness

I'm terrible.  I have been looking for a moment to put something up on this blog for the past two weeks but between all the Christmas programs, volunteer work, shopping for my mother, a new baby, (not mine), some lost cats, (not mine), and a graduation, I plead exhaustion.  Okay on to Sinterklaas...

     My nieces are Dutch/American and as a result celebrate a Dutch Christmas on December 6th.  In the Netherlands Santa Claus, aka Sinterklaas, brings gifts on December 6th; December 25th focuses on the religious aspect of the holiday.  For years I've heard of Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piet from my sister and the kids, but this year was the first time I was present for the event.  So I thought I'd share, but be warned that the Dutch holiday involves some racial controversy. You can read about the holiday in detail here or go with this one if you like sarcastic humor.

     Sinterklaas comes to the Netherlands in a boat from Spain to deliver gifts to children with the help of the Zwarte Piet, elves covered with soot from chimneys.  Instead of reindeer, Sinterklaas has a horse and apparently in my sister's household, he knocks on the door when the gifts are delivered.  There is some inconsistency with the Zwarte Piet soot from chimneys and the knock on the door thing.  I don't know how that is explained, I just go with the explanation because making sense isn't always my sister's thing.

     Anyways the kids left their shoes with an apple for the horse and an empty sack at the front door and waited for a knock.  We had a traditional supper of pannenkoeken,  which are somewhere between a crepe and a pancake.  Sis said in the Netherlands they would have them with chicken and mushroom sauce on top.  After supper the kids sang a song welcoming Sinterklaas, (there is also a goodbye song), and suddenly a knock came when Sis had gone to take out the garbage.  Like magic the sack was full of gifts and poor sis must have just missed seeing Sinterklaas.  I admit she looked really out of breath coming in through the back door.  Chimney is better, less exorcise involved.

 Pannenkoeken with bacon.  There was also apple and plain as well.

You can imagine my discomfort when I saw the sack sitting out by the front door for all to see; I was waiting for a knock at the door alright and not from Sinterklaas.   Creeps me out. 

The niece goes nuts for that Hagel stuff.  Puts it on toast.

On the right is the pancake mix and on the left is,  translated, American fry sauce.  It's mayonnaise although they say it's not.  When I wanted to use ketchup on my fries some of the Dutch were shocked, they thought we used mayonnaise.  That yellow tube to the far left?  That's the mayonnaise.  

Oma's Christmas card with those traditional tiny ginger cookies  pictured at the bottom.  Chocolate Zwarte  Piet figures were included in the package of chocolates.  The Zwarte Piet were freaky, but the chocolate was excellent.

To continue to weird me out, was the wrapping paper.  There was Zwarte Piet on everything kid related.

     Because these kids also celebrate Christmas US style, the Dec. 6th, thing is kept small.  There were gifts of fritessauce, ginger cookies, peppermint, pannenkoeken mix, gold coin chocolates, and some small toys.  I got a wire head massager.  The Dutch food was sent by the kid's Dutch oma.  The older one in particular misses living in the Netherlands so getting the Dutch stuff made her really happy.

     I know that this just looks outright racist, and if I didn't understand the mindset of these people I'd agree.  The Dutch don't think in terms of racism as we in the US do.  The big thing in the Netherlands is something called, nationalism.  They are very proud to be Dutch and base their prejudices upon being Dutch.  For example. you can be black and be Dutch, (no problem), and you can be white and not Dutch, (problem).  If you are not Dutch, you had better be working on being Dutch, (accent, clothing, attitude, in other words total assimilation), or you are going to get a lot of disapproval.  The Dutch did not have Jim Crow laws, the KKK, or Al Jolson, these people honestly see the whole Zwarte Piet thing in terms of being Dutch not as an act of racism.  How do you feel about it?


  1. Thanks for another great post!
    I learn a lot and I don't see any of this as racism but as a country's tradition.