Two things happened last weekend: Sint Maarten and (the arrival of) Sinta Klaas.
Both are typically Dutch and both are responsible for dialing up the year-end festive mood. My in-laws swear by them along with several millions other Dutch in this country; as do Silver Bullet who grew up celebrating the tradition but had completely lost touch with it in the last 11 years.
For the kids, those would be the sweetest days ever. Like literally drowning in sweets as experienced by Spud and Squirt – part of their so-called initiation rites.
These festivities get pretty big, mind you. The children learn new songs in school and singing them on repeat for weeks on end, the TV will broadcast special shows and the towns and villages will be littered with sugar and spice and all things nice.
It would be no surprise that the main topics dominating most conversations at around this time of the year would revolve around Sint Maarten and Sinta Klas. Not only we got to talk about it, we got to experience it like the Dutch would. Let me explain:
Sint Maarten (or Saint Martin’s)
It’s the Dutch ”Halloween” celebrated on the evening of 11th November – all the treats without the tricks. Instead, the kids and kids only (accompanied by adults if they are younger) would go door-to-door with hand-crafted lanterns in their hands and sing the songs they school had taught them in return for some candies.
There are no scary or funny dress-ups. All they had to do was sing, sing and sing. Then it would rain candies!
Why 11th November? It’s the day Saint Martin, a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and later became a monk died. He was a friend of the children and the poor. The best well-told legend was that he had cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snow storm, thus saving the beggar’s life.
It is celebrated by many countries around the world, each country with different ways of celebrating. The Halloween and Sint Maarten are therefore technically not related.
This day also happened to be Silver Bullet’s birthday and he had spent many good years singing and receiving extra candies on Sint Maarten! This time, he made his round first with his mom along with the kids in their neighbourhood and then continued on with only the kids within our own neighbourhood.
The looting was pretty darn good. I reckon, this stash would last a year. Of course the Parents’ Tax apply.
The primary source of the popular Christmas icon of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas also known as De Sint is essentially a mythical figure from the origins of Saint Nicholas. He is a well-known figure mainly in territories that were part of the Dutch empire.
While celebration and giving of gifts is only done on 5th December, the celebrations that lead up to it starts earlier.
Last weekend, SintaKlaas and his crew hit town. Our little town; all dressed up with loud music and accompanied by his crew, Zwarter Piet(s) – the ones usually with the goodies!
Just like Santa Clause, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet(s) will be carrying sacks loaded with candies and presents to nice children. Pepernoten were given out and stuffed into the hoods of the kids’ jackets
Back home after all the fun fare, as tradition, the kids will put out their shoes (yes, shoes! Not stockings or socks) for Zwarte Piet. But first, these kids have to sing as loud as they can and if they sing nice and they have been good, Zwarte Piet will come down from the chimney and leave them little presents. Kids love them!
It’s a Dutch fable and that pretty much explains why Zwarte Piet is all black – he comes down the chimney and got all soot up.
Unfortunately, in the recent years, Zwarte Piet being black has caused quite a stir. Traditions surrounding Sintaklaas and Zwarte Piet have been quite controversial and considered by some to be racist. To the extend that the innocent festival invoke protest and violence.
But for most, the holiday event remains popular in the Netherlands with 92% of the Dutch surveyed surveyed in 2013 did not perceive Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery.
For the kids, they don’t give a crap about colours; all they care about would be candies and presents. In all sorts of colours!
Now I don’t know how your weekend was if you did not celebrate those. And as you can see, ours got a tad busy with lots of leftovers loot to satisfy that sweet tooth.
After last week though, I’m in a need for a less hectic affair. Perhaps a slightly quieter weekend to recover while gearing up for the next big event on 5th December. Then again on Christmas. And then New Year.
Plenty of parties going on and one can’t help but gotta love this time of the year.