It's Christmas !
It really really really is, well, here in the Netherlands at least.
Tomorrow is the 5th December, 'kerst'.
This the day that 'Sinterklaas' (who bears a striking resembalence to Santa Claus, just having drunk less of that holiday cola cola) arrives with his sleigh with gifts for all the boys and girls.
Now, the jolly old fat git that you may be more familiar with may have magic, and reindeer, and elves no less, but the Dutch variety is far more practical.
1 - Flying reindeer? - that's just silly, Sinterklaas uses a knackered old work horse to drag his gear and scrawny ass all around the Benelux region. The Dutch animal protection society can be contacted here.
2 - Naughty or nice? The morbidly obese Santa that we know and love will check out what kids have been good or bad during the previous calender year, and the misfortunate ones who may have been involved in over extravagant childish silliness such as armed robbery or grevious bodily harm, will find that they get a lump of coal in their stocking.
NOT with Dutch Sinterklaas they don't! An infant who didn't finish all his cabbage last May or the girl who misplaced a hairclip in February can look forward to something a bit more severe... - Kidnapping.
Yes indeed, Dutch legend goes that a naughty child shall be stolen from their home by this creepy old man on a haggard horse and taken away from their family forever. Extreme perhaps, but effective. The Dutch branch of defence for Children International can be found here.
3 - Elves, just like our generous coronary strained friend uses...Who needs them when you can go one step better and enlist the services of.... Slaves !
Yes ladies & gents, in this fine liberal land that I call home, Sinterklaas uses a slave called 'Zwarte Piet' to carry out his (occasionally) gift giving and (often) child stealing duties.
'Zwarte Piet' - translated as 'Black Pete', is probably some kid he picked up centuries ago, and complete with soot blackened face (from being up chimneys or down mines) he carries out all Sinterklaas' dirty work, starving and beating the horse, shoving kids into sacks and generally keeping the festive season in the 14th Century. Links to the Dutch slavery organisations and monuments can be found here.
4 - Santa's Grotto ! A wonderous place where we all love to go to sit on Santa's knee and put some more pressure on his overweight frame in the weeks running up to Christmas.
Mmmmm not quite the same scenario here.....
Sinterklaas, kind of like John Travolta, makes various public appearances in the run up to his big day. These appearances, in reality, lack most of the hollywood influence that Santa himself brings.
On weekend mornings you can forget about your lie in, as you'll be awoken by the sound of what you'ld be forgiven for thinking was a church organ being dropped from a great height, but which is in fact, some bizzare form of wurlitzer/organ type thing that belts out 'music' to signify that the pale underfed guy with the garbage bag (who you thought was homeless,) is indeed, Sinterklaas.
Now the 'Sint' as he's known to a few, has many appearances to make on any given day, and of course he can't be expected to travel around on the back of that disheveled old nag, instead you're more likey to see him climb into the passenger seat of a '92 toyota corolla.
To make matter worse, Sinterklaas turns up at your workplace... he jollies it up for the employees of industrial estates and industry parks, throwing cheap sweets around the office which the cleaners later have to un-stick from the carpets, and generally being a nuisance.
One prime example was during my first 'Kerst' here, Sinterklaas turned up at my office. Laughing and joking, he danced and sang his way around the office, blinding 4 people with his indiscriminate hurtling of hard boiled sweets, before (literally) physically dancing one employee out of a meeting and out the front door of the office. Under normal circumstances this may have been tolerated, but the employee was in the process of being fired by his (very bemused and unimpressed American) manager at the time.
Oh the Joys.
So, when you moan about Christmas coming too soon next year, spare a thought for this wee Irishman for whom it actually does come too soon, and in the form of a drug induced nightmare.
p.s. Disclaimer - before I get beaten up by angry Dutch folk, this is written in jest. The Sint is a lovely man I'm sure, he just needs a proper meal. Ik wens jullie allemaal een gezelig Pakjesavond met de hele familie.