Sunday, 18 November 2012

strange Christmas traditions

I spent the morning standing in the icy cold, beside the river, waiting for Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet to arrive by boat from Spain. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Holland has it's own Christmas traditions. On the 5th December the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas with gifts and sweet treats. Make sure you don't confuse him with  Santa Clause - even though they look exactly the same, their names sound the same and they both bring sacks of toys - apparently they are nothing alike. As any good Dutch person will tell you Sinterklaas comes from SPAIN, Santa Clause comes from the NORTH POLE. I suspect the Dutch come from MARS... but that's another issue! (and probably the reason why I married one!)

The many Zwarte Piet helpers on the Sinterklaas boat
Anyway, as I was saying, it was freezing by the river. We were enduring wet, cold weather that seeps through your bones. I'm very familiar with this weather, it's the standard in Scotland and one of the main reasons I don't live there anymore! The whole town, it seemed, had turned out to meet the Sinterklaas boat, which materialised as if by magic through the fog. But it didn't take long to figure out that they didn't really care about Sinterklaas. No. They wanted to meet Zwarte Piet - or Black Pete, as we would say in English. Black Pete helps Sinterklaas by carrying a large sack of sweets and handing them out to all the waiting kids. You can see why he's the favourite.

The crowd waiting for Sinterklass to arrive. And yes the tower in the background is leaning by about  three feet...

The annual Sinterklaas speech for the town 
If this was any other country, people would be embarrassed at the racial connotations and the black face paint. Not in Holland. In Holland, Black Pete is an institution. He's more important than the Queen, possibly even more important than the coffee houses. You don't criticise Black Pete.

I understand a little. In New Zealand we have our own strange Christmas tradition. Every year, in 30 degree summer heat, we take an old man, dress him in a red wool suit and fake beard and make him stand outside in the sun. Other people would call it cruelty, we call it The Season Of Goodwill.


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