Friday, December 4, 2009


The feast of Sinterklaas (Sint-Nicolaas or Saint Nicholas) is an annual celebration which has been uniquely Dutch and Flemish. Saint Nicholas' Feast Day is actually on the 6th of December and observed primarily as a feast for children. It is also celebrated in parts of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland etc. and the tradition differs from one country to another.

In The Netherlands, the feast is celebrated on the eve of the Feast Day on the 5th December and children will receive their presents on this evening. Since the Eve has become the main occassion for gift-giving, other family members shall also receive their presents on this day. The Dutch has a rather unique way of giving or making presents. Tradition demands that the presents be camouflaged in an imaginative and often unexpected way, accompanied by a fitting poem which could be an embarrassing incident, funny habit or well kept secret. This is the essence of Sinterklaas : lots of fun where people are expected to make fun of each other in a friendly way. The recipient often has to go on a treasure hunt all over the house to search for the gift and is expected to open it and read out aloud the poem. The real giver is supposed to remain anonymous and the recipient shall say out aloud "Thank you Sinterklaas!" even if he/she does not believe in him.

Now each year, Sinterklaas traditionally arrives from Spain by a steamboat in mid-November. Exactly why he does, remain a mystery because Saint Nicholas was originally a Bishop in Myra in present-day Turkey. Sinterklaas is accompanied by two Zwarte Piet assistants who help him give candy and "kruidnoten" or "pepernoten" cookies to the children. "Zwarte" in Dutch means black.

At the ISA, Sinterklaas had arrived this morning to the enjoyment of the Lower School children. They gathered and waited patiently for Sinterklaas and the two Piets. You can tell by the loud cheering and singing that the much awaited Sinterklaas had arrived.

"How are you children? Have you been bad in the past year? Maybe I should rephrase that, have you been good? " to the chorus of "Good!", "No!" and "Yes!". Sinterklaas would then visit each class to talk to the children and give out "pepernoten".

It were the Dutch settlers who brought Saint Nicholas to New Amsterdam, USA where it was later americanised into Santa Claus....

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