Saturday, November 19, 2016

Netherlands: The arrival of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) in mid-November from Spain

Christmas just came a little sooner for me this year--from my recent trip to the Netherlands. And I could not have been happier to begin to celebrate my favorite holiday. To learn the Dutch traditions and hear their memories of Christmas and Sinterklaas made me feel like a child again. It seemed everyone in the Netherlands turns the clock back (in my case, many years) in mid-November as Sinterklaas arrives on the boat from Spain. There are parades, canal rides, and thousands of children to see. Everyone is jolly, festive, and smiling.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam, and his image is everywhere. The large Catholic cathedral in Amsterdam is named for him. He was born in the 4th century in Greece, and died on December 6 343 AD. His origins are legendary and folklore. But there is also historical truth too. He was known as a 'The Good, Holy Man"--a bishop who generously gave to the poor in his many wanderings. In fact, he is known as the "The Wonderworker." When Dutch immigrants came to New York City in the 18th century, they blessedly brought the traditions of Sinterklaas with them.  History of St. Nicholas

Sinterklaas, after arriving on the boat the day before from Spain, parades through the streets of Amsterdam. He will be in The Netherlands until December 6, and then will return back to Spain. He wears a long red came over a a traditional white bishop's alb. He has long curly white hair that matches his billowing beard. He carries a large, tattered book that tells him if the children are good or naughty,

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            A glimpse of what it was like to be at the parade of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam this year
Sinterklaas arriving from Spain, on a canal of Amsterdam. He comes every year in mid-November, staying in the Netherlands for about three weeks to visit the children in schools and communities. 

Children all over the Netherlands put out their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 5) to receive candy and presents. This picture was taken in a museum/old church called "Our Lord of the Attic"--a small Catholic church that was secretly built and used for several centuries in a house.  Our Lord of the Attic Church   Children receive candy and goodies in their shoes or cinder (ashes) if they are naughty.
Cookies that are set out for Sinterklass' coming....
Tiny gingerbread cookies called kruidnoten abound everywhere. You can find them in market stalls and hotels. There are huge bags of them on the street, especially on the day of the Sinterklaas arrival to Amsterdam. Candy and cookies are thrown everywhere to remember when St. NIcholas saved three girls from being prostitutes. The story goes that he threw gold coins in the window to rescue them from a horrible fate. Kruidnoten recipe
Zaarte Piete, St. Nicholas' companion, wears a lace collar, red hat, and happily prances around. He has streaks of charcoal on his face from climbing down chimneys.

Another dressed up Zwarte Piet, standing on a high ledge in Dam Square in Amsterdam. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam so his image can be seen on buildings everywhere. This relief is on an old house, near the square--now next to a H and M store.
Many people, dressed up like Zwarte Piet, hang from buildings, and prance around singing, dancing, and throwing candy. 

An owner of a shop in Haarlem, Netherlands who said this would be his busiest part of the year--the next three weeks of St. Nicholas' stay. He provides make up and costumes.
The window of his shop, and the outcome of many who will come to get ready to be St. Nicholas.


I didn't know anything about Sinterklaas arriving on a boat from Spain, and coming to the Netherlands.  My Santa Claus drove a sleigh of reindeer through the sky. He didn't ride a majestic white horse and meander his way through the canals of the Netherlands. But I was glad to see him this year. Christmas just happily came a little earlier....


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