Although Sinterklaas is always portrayed in the vestments of the bishop he once was, his status as a canonized saint has had little to do with the way the Dutch think of him. Rather, he is a kind of benevolent old man, whose feast day is observed by exchanging gifts and making good-natured fun of each other. It so happens that the legend of St. Nicholas is based on historical fact. He did actually exist. He lived from 271 A.D. to December 6th, 342 or 343. His 4th century tomb in the town of Myra, near the city of Anatolia in present-day Turkey, has even been dug up by archaeologists.
All Dutch children know that Sinterklaas (the name is a corruption of Sint Nikolaas) lives in Spain. Exactly why he does remains a mystery, but that is what all the old songs and nursery rhymes say. Whatever the case may be, in Spain he spends most of the year recording the behaviour of all children in a big red book, while his helper Black Peter stocks up on presents for next December 5th. In the first weeks of November, Sinterklaas gets on his white horse, Peter ("Piet") swings a huge sack full of gifts over his shoulder, and the three of them board a steamship headed for the Netherlands. Around mid-November they arrive in a harbour town - a different one every year - where they are formally greeted by the Mayor and a delegation of citizens. Their parade through town is watched live on television by the whole country and marks the beginning of the "Sinterklaas season".
The old bishop and his helpmate are suddenly everywhere at once. At night they ride across Holland's' rooftops and Sinterklaas listens through the chimneys to check on the children's behaviour. Piet jumps down the chimney flues and makes sure that the carrot or hay the children have left for the horse in their shoes by the fireplace is exchanged for a small gift or some candy. During the day, Sinterklaas and Piet are even busier, visiting schools, hospitals, department stores, restaurants, offices and many private homes. Piet rings doorbells, scatters sweets through the slightly opened doors and leaves basketfuls of presents by the front door.
Sunday, we were able to see Sinterklaas and Piets in town. We waited over 30 minutes for them to arrive, when they came in the Piets were dancing and they played a song over the PA that all the kids were singing along with. Piet shook Cody's hand, and then shook his foot, then he shook my foot. He was saying something in Dutch but we had no idea so we just smiled :) After that Sinterklaas was standing in the front looking at papers that I think were made for him beforehand by the kids, and we didn't know what was going on, so we tried sneaking out the back. The man in charge stopped us outside and made sure the kids got a bag of candy. That was half of the reason we went, so the boys could get the candy and cookies.
|Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas|
|after getting his foot shook|