Sinterklaas: The Fun and Terrifying Reason Dutch Kids are Well Behaved
December 3, 2017
Happy Sinterklaas! Did your shoe get filled with chocolate overnight? Was it on purpose or did your toddler get a hold of some old Halloween candy? Or a bottle of chocolate syrup… Either way, look at you celebrating other cultures! You go, Glen Coco!
Need a little more context? Read on.
Wooden Shoe Rather Be Dutch?
The Dutch people are wonderful and I’m proud to be a Dutch-American.
A quarter Dutch-American.
Okay, basically a US melting pot European mutt… but the most prominently displayed part of my DNA is Dutch.
My maternal grandmother, Oma, immigrated to the US in her 20s as an au pair, fell in love with my grandfather, and moved across the Atlantic. She may have left her homeland, but she brought ALL her Dutch with her.
For example, Oma has an uncanny ability to find every Dutch person currently living in North America. If you know someone who is Dutch I would be willing to bet 1 million dollars that he or she knows Oma. It’s a true gift.
Oh and have you ever had haveslosdif? It’s Dutch chocolate sprinkles that you eat on buttered bread for breakfast. Just fantastic.
Four Two Christmases
I loved growing up with close ties to another culture. It made me feel worldly and sophisticated. It also meant we got to have a mini Christmas before Christmas.
Sinterklaas is Dutch commercialized Christmas. They celebrate the Birth of Christ Christmas on the 25th in churches. Sinterklaas is celebrated on the 5th and offers up a scarier and more racist version of Santa, but with chocolate bars in the shape of your initial.
Sinterklaas travels by boat from Spain to visit the Dutch children every year. He brings with him his servant Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Who is typically portrayed by someone wearing blackface… Um, I love you Netherlands but can we not, please? From what I have read this is finally starting to evolve so let’s fast forward progress a little.
New Version! Sinterklaas comes with his best friend Peter to visit the Dutch children. There is candy and a parade and freedom. #Equality #ComeOnNowHolland
You Better Not Pout, You Better Not Cry
You think we’re past the uncomfortable part don’t you? Oh, no my friend…
Sint, in Santa fashion, brings candy and gifts for the children and leaves them in the wooden shoes the children leave by the door. Stockings, but sturdier and less likely to melt the enclosed chocolate when hung by the chimney with care. The Dutch are smart.
But he also brings an empty sack. Because if the kids weren’t good that year they don’t get coal in their wooden shoes, they get bopped in the head with his walking stick and taken back to Spain as punishment. Let’s replay that once more. BOPPED IN THE HEAD and INTERNATIONALLY KIDNAPPED.
As a result, Dutch children are incredibly well behaved. Apparently being taken from your family feels like a real threat whereas as the gift of fossil fuels just seems like an efficient albeit not very environmentally friendly way to heat your home.
But in a Fun Way
Skipping over the wildly inappropriate/ terrifying parts, Sinterklaas is a lovely holiday and my parents continued the traditions with us as kids. We learned some Dutch songs, we ate the good Dutch cheese, and we eagerly awaited our chocolate letter each year. My brother Tom may have been the favorite kid, but both R for Rebecca and B for Becca produced more chocolate than a T. And there was just no way my family could get around that one.
I’ll take my wins where I can get them.I’m doing my best to continue the traditions with Jack and Norah but at this age and stage the best I’ve done is to sing “Sinterklaas Kapoentje” enthusiastically while frantically looking for shoes. Not wooden shoes to put by the door. Regular shoes so that we can get out of the door. I’ll rally when they are older.
With pepernoten and marzipan,
P.S. If you’re feeling all kinds of Christmasy, make sure to get involved in the Very Merry Christmas Movie Bracket going on now!