St. Nicolaas Reviews
Sinterklaas, a cultural heritage Nov 13, 2012
St. Nicolaas, also called Sinterklaas is a feast, most important for dutch and flemisch children.
The main event is celebrated on the night of December 5th in both the Netherlands and Flanders, with slight differencies.
Young children believe Sinterklaas is a bishop who does good deeds to children who deserve it, i.e. children who have been good, behaved properly.
This good deeds means he brings presents and candy. Ofcourse he cannot do this all by himself, so he has Zwarte Piet as his companion and helper.
In Belgium he has got just one helper, in the Netherlands he has a lot of them.
Sinterklaas arrives in the lower countries about half of November on his steamship, it is said he comes from Spain.
The steamer is ofcourse loaded with presents and candy for all the little children.
When Sinterklaas arrives, the children with their parents are already waiting for him on the shore or at the harbour.
This is on a local scale ofcourse, but also on national scale which is covered by television.
When he sets foot ashore the burgemeester (major) of the town or village will welcome him; after this official part Sinterklaas sets on for a ride through the town, usually on his gray horse.
That night the children are allowed to put their shoe next to the fireplace, with a carrot or some hay in it for the horse, they have to sing a Sinterklaas song, and if they are lucky they will find the next morning Sinterklaas or Zwarte Piet has dropped a little present in it.
Sint or Piet will move across the rooftops to drop the presents down the chimneypipes (or in these modern times they enter the house by the window).
In the next weeks both Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet can be seen visiting shopping centers, or even children at home to hand them some candy or a little present, sometime the candy will be scattered to the children, and lots of children will put their shoes next to the fireplace hoping they find a present in it the next morning.
But the main event is "pakjesavond" on December 5th.
That day will be a busy day for Sinterklaas and his helpers, the "zwarte pieten", during the day they will visit the schools, and when it is getting dark they have to get to the homes of many children.
Sometimes they will be visiting the home of children, but it also happens that he only knocks on door or window (which often will be done by a neighbour), and when one of the familymembers (preferably a child) is going to look a big bag full of presents is on the doorway, and the feast can begin.
The unwrapping of the presents is exciting ofcourse, but there is special Sinterklaas candy and cookies as well.
"pepernoten" - little spice cookies
"borstplaat" - a type of fondant/cream sweets
"speculaaspoppen" - spice cook shaped like a person
"taai-taai" - a type of gingerbread
"boterletter" - coarse almondpaste covered in puff pastry shaped in a letter, usually an "S" or "M"
"chocoladeletters" - big letters made of chocolate
"marsepein" - fine almond paste in various shapes, f.e. fruits or sausages, or a several kiloos big pig.
There are shapes of Sinterklaas and Zwarte piet made of chocolate
and hot chocolate is the typical non-alcoholic Sinterklaas drink. For the ones who prefer an alcoholic drink there is hot bishopswine.
When children get older, around the age of 8, they are told the secret that Sinterklaas does not really exist and that people acutally give each other presents, the feast is perfect to give someone an anonymus present.
When your family has older children the feast is celebrated by drawing names, and buy a present for that person, and make a surprise wrapping, accompanied with a poem.
This is the time of fun and handycraft, and the surpriseparcels sometimes turn out to be small pieces of artwork.
On December 6th when Sinterklaas actually has his birthday he will (unnoticed) head back to Spain, and not return until November the next year.
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