Rob Driessen (rob_d) wrote,
Rob Driessen

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An excerpt from the terrific book "The Undutchables", brought to you by... me!


On the third saturday of November, the Dutch Santa Claus (Sinterklaas) travels from Spain to Amsterdam by ship. After clearing customs (parking fines, excess toys, etc.), he is greeted by the monarch before stocking up with soft drugs, chocolate letters and pepernoten.

Santa has a long white beard and a decidedly Catholic look about him, epitomized by his long red robe, tall red/gold mitre and golden crook. He is attended by his black manservant Peter (Zwarte Piet), provide the former can prove that Peter is not his slave, and the latter can provide evidence that his presence is only temporary and dependent upon Santa's acceptance. (As an aside, note that the term zwartepiet has some other uses in Dutch; it is linked to laying blame, passing the buck or the Jack of Spades in card games).

Traditionally, the Dutch celebrate Christmas (Kerstmis) on the 5th of December and again on Christmas Day/ Boxing Day. There are two Christmases in order to split the material one (gifts) from the spiritual.

Gifts are exchanged on the 5th in celebration of the birthday of Sint Nicolaas. At night, children place their shoes by the fireplace. The shoes are filled with surprises from Santa during the night, which partly explains why Netherlanders have such big feet. Another tradition consists of "creating" and exchaniging prank gifts. Each of these presents is accompanied by a silly or rude poem (the more embarrassing the better) about the recipient's bad habits. The "giver" understandably strives to remain anonymous.

Alas, there is strong evidence that the Dutch dual Christmas is on the decline. An increasing number of households are intergrating the two events into one big bash on the 25th of December (how original). The obvious financial advantage of this merger is subtly disguised as a child-friendly manoeuvre to protect against "Sint-stress". It is claimed that the ranks of Dutch Wunderkind suffer stress and trauma due to overexcitement and anticipation of the Santa experience. Just how this stress is relieved by a twenty-day delay is not abundantly clear.
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