Tuesday 4 December 2007


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.


Marcie said...

Wow, I was trying to explain Sinterklaas to my friend today! I always was told by my oma that the bad kids were taken back to Spain and turned into gingernuts (cookies) and they were thrown out at the parade the following year and the good kids would eat them. I always described Sinterklaas as a racist old prick who should pack an extra set of cloths and go chimney diving with Piet but mommy said that "Sinterklaas is a bishop and can't be bothered" humbug I say!
I learned that the horse was called Schimmel too and you were supposed to leave hay and carrots for him in you klompens. Ya, fatten the horse, starve the guy who does all the work!
Well enough of me babbling on like a Dutchie, Prettige Kerstdagen!

Martin said...

Hey Marcie,

You've no idea how relieved I am that the first response wasn't from someone blowing me out for slandering Sinterklaas !

And seriously, he's way too pale to be from Spain.

Bedankt voor de opmerking! Groetjes

Veronica Foale said...

It's fantastic to be able to read about other countries customs.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I need to tell my kids to stop complaining NOW.

Thanks for the education.

Chuck @ D is for Dad

Anonymous said...

Firstly, how did an Irishman come to be in the Netherlands?
Work, I know but why there?

Secondly, Sinterklaas sounds downright scary.

Thirdly, you can speak Dutch?!?! At least type it... my my, we are the multi tasking gent aren't we? My husband told me men could not do such things. I will have to beat him (much like Sinterklaas did to those poor workers in your office) for telling an untruth!

Great cultural lesson!

Martin said...

@Veronica - ...well...at least my somewhat biased view of the customs ;-)

@Chuck - for what its worth, and it's probably a post for a whole other day, but Dutch kids are very well behaved as a whole, very confident kids which can sometimes be seen as a bit cocky, but quite admirable I think.

@Tiff - Its not that far a hop from Ireland, and us paddys do like to get about. We just fancied a change of scenery for a bit, back in 2001 and boom here we arrived on the back of a job offer.

Sinterklaas certainly ain't the jolly old guy we know, and he's officially a bishop, apparently.
But hey still love him here.

My Dutch is poor considering Ive been here so long, its only i my last job that Ive actively started speaking it, so less than 2 years, and my day to day work is in Dutch so it's improving.
Don't let that hubby of yours fool you, we can do plenty...I've even got a bit of French and Irish knocking around my brain from years gone by.

I would love to learn spanish, it's just so much fun to speak. But starting another language while trying to cope with Dutch is not a good idea, would lead to major confusion.

Anonymous said...

LOL! You should learn Aussie! Imagine the ecclectic mix you could speak with a few g'day Sheila's and the like thrown in there with the Irish, French nd Dutch!

Anonymous said...

The threat of kidnapping eh? Hmmm. Marcus can't really read yet. There's still time to incorporate that into our heftier, more Tony Soprano looking Mr. Claus. I can probably leverage that for a couple more years.

Martin said...

@Tiff...nah i think aussie is too far removed from English for me ;-)

@BusyDad... I reckon thats a great idea, that they don't know yet won't hurt them, by the time were finished santa could be modelled on joseph stalin

Joeprah said...

That Pete character is creepy. Wtf is up with the Dutch? I mean kidnapping? Harsh. LOL!

Martin said...

No doubt Joseph, no doubt, the Dutch are 'unique'.... take into account that they are allergic to credit cards, obsessed with brown bread & cheese sandwiches, 85% of the male population wears red trousers, and are genetically programmed to join ANY queue they see and you'll see where I'm coming from....

All tales for another day...