Sinterklaas, the old man with the long white beard, is spending a few weeks in Holland, to celebrate his birthday on 5 December. Unlike most of us, he celebrates it by giving away gifts, instead of receiving them. Then again, there are several other things that make him different from the rest of us. His age, for one thing, and the curious Zwarte Pieten around him. All in all, a strong tradition that has the greatest impact on children between say 3 and 8, and still fully supported by adults where celebs and politicians are frequently seen in the Sinterklaas News that you can watch every week day at 6 p.m.
Monique has fond memories of this tradition, although as things go, it has lost its great importance in her adult life (still like receiving sweets & presents, though – Monique). As for me (Tove), I’ve come to finally understand the tradition through my children. My first years in Holland I used to complain to colleagues and friends about this old guy postponing my Christmas tradition (we start 1 December in Finland, and the whole month is “Christmas month”, as December is also called in Finnish). With the arrival of the children, however, there was no way to ignore Sinterklaas anymore. Instead, we have spent the last couple of years watching Sinterklaas News every week day, leaving our shoes (well, mainly the kids’) by the fire place / radiator with a carrot and some water for the horse, and singing Sinterklaas songs – by now even familiar to me.
That’s the whole point really, familiarity. Just like Christmas – a tradition more familiar to most of use – Sinterklaas means doing the same things every year. The songs by the fire place, the excitement the children display, the countdown to 5 December…all of that will turn into fond childhood memories for those growing up in Holland. For those of us joining in at a later stage, there’s no need to turn our backs on this important tradition. It’s much more enjoyable to join in and let the nostalgic feeling develop as the years pass and the traditions become expected and something we recognize instead of need to get explained. That’s when we’ve become part of a foreign tradition. And it’s okay to adapt it to fit your family- joining in doesn’t have to mean copying others, it means making it part of your Dutch life!
Wishing you all a Happy Sinterklaas time!