Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Tomorrow, December 5th, is Sinterklaas day here in Holland, or Saint Nicholas Eve, when traditionally presents are given to all good children, large or small. Typically presents are wrapped ingeniously and are therefore called "surprises," accompanied by a poem that has to be read aloud before the gift is opened. You can read more about it here.

Astrid, the "Dutch girl" from my last post, was pretty insistent in saying we needed to go see Sinterklaas last weekend while he was in Amsterdam's posh department store, De Bijenkorf. It would show us a bit more about the tradition, from which our American Santa Claus comes.
So we went on Saturday afternoon and Astrid was right!
222 photos later, I had to synthesize this post down to the few I thought most accurately depicted this fabled man who came to Holland from Spain on his white horse (there in the background).

Part of the tradition is the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who are the mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful outfits, modelled after 16th century Spanish clothing, who assist Sinterklaas.

Why does he remind me of the Pope! (Hold that thought.)

I watched him reach out to every child who came to see him.

Ones who stood in line with awe (and weren't too old to disbelieve!).

He looked intently and very seriously into the eyes of each and every child.

I wished I could have heard what he said. And once hearing, translated it!

This was the wee-est child I saw...

...and look how she eventually clung to his fingers!

This little fella clung to his Papa's fingers! Which was just as good, I'm sure.

Now you will think this very strange when I say this, but I have tears in my eyes after this experience. I can't explain it but Santa Claus will never be the same to me any more. There's a bit of a holy mystery that will now surround our mutual "myths."

There's a bit of a holiness that surrounds our traditions, period, and why suddenly I am very thankful for them, in spite of how they've become corrupted over time. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a Holiday Season for us all to get reacquainted with what's important...and what's not?!


  1. We've always had Santa as part of our girls' growing up experience. To this day, of course I believe in him!!;)

    My moving St. Nick experience was in St. Nicholas' church in Galway, Ireland. It was pretty amazing. I love the Hollanders' tradition much more than our American-Coca-Cola picture. Wasn't he an advertising symbol in the US when our "vision" of him began?

  2. Sprakeloos, Ginnie you did a very nice job here, this is the story and the expressions on those kids faces, priceless, I still can remember the time they told me 'he was not for real' I was angry, very very angry, I was a good 'believer' always watched out not to be 'in trouble'( yea yea)
    But now it is a joy to see how I and others play tricks on other people ;-), a nice tradition that never will go hopefully.

  3. Mrs. M: Interesting, Shari. I didn't know that about you and yours! Maybe it's BECAUSE of Holland that I will take back or receive this tradition. I have no memory of ever believing in Santa Claus, nor do my kids, I'm sure. Nicholas? I honestly don't know what he knows or believes. Hmmm.... Much to think about.

    Astrid: In this regard, our traditions are the same--finding those timeless expressions of awe on the kids' faces. But it just feels different to see a Santa/Sinterklaas that looks...like THAT! Thank you for insisting that Donica and I go! I'll never forget it.

  4. Ginnie this is just priceless,I imagine it was a moving experience and being a child still at heart i'm with you all the way on the sentiment statement.

  5. Such beautiful photos Ginnie! You've truly captured the spirit of Christmas.

  6. Oh, these pictures are just lovely. I had tears in my eyes too looking at them and being reminded of my childhood and the many pictures we had taken with Santa Claus.

    I love Sinterklaas' beautiful outfit. He looks much more traditional than the Nikolaus you see here - his robe is usually bright red trimmed with white and he's not always wearing the bishop's hat.

  7. For me, I just feel sad we didn't have Santa Claus at home. I feel we really missed out on something special - Father Christmas, something!

    Lovely post. Inge celebrates these same special days, being German. And her son's name is Piet! But he's a white one. :)

  8. Great pictures and an excellent retelling of tradition over there. Thank you.

  9. What a great series. It's impossible to get anything like that here even with plain old Santa. Santa only shows up to sell photos of himself with kids.
    Thanks for posting this.

  10. Lurch: I never grew up with Santa Claus in my preacher-dad's home, Tracy. I think I missed something important in my childhood, and maybe that's why I have tears in my eyes!

    Mad: Thank you, my friend!

    Christina: I think it was his outfit that made the tradition feel more important than it was when I grew up. More...holy. I'm glad YOU had a childhood with Santa Claus!!

    Ruth: I feel sad, too! Father Christmas is exactly the right word. A God-Like figure. Someone who knows everything and knows best! :) Thanks, Ruth, for understanding.

    Tim: I wonder if YOU grew up with Santa Claus?? Your church tradition was pretty similar to mine, I think!

    Jeff: I know, I know. Sad but true. Maybe that's another reason I had tears...seeing it the way it was meant to be. Thanks for stopping by again, Bro!

  11. Ginnie, you are making up for those missed Santa Claus experiences now. And thank you for sharing them with us through your words and photographs. Maybe it would help to not think of it as a lacking in your childhood, but a blessing and adventure in your adulthood.

  12. Ginnie I think Kathryn is so right here, be glad and I know you are, that you now are part of the tradition, it does not matter how old you get, you will NOW always remember 'our' 5th of Dec. and have a smill on your face....... and that is how it should be!!!

  13. beautiful pictures and post Ginnie.....traditions followed, ignored, corrupted, exalted, belittled, exploited, classified, or analyzed are still traditions....i hold on to some for they provide me with a security only deep-rooted traditions can.....i unknowingly have inherited a few and smile when they make themselves known to me.....i acquired a few when I married into a culture different from mine....and i question some when they fail to make sense to me ....

    needless to say, I loved your post, Ginnie :)

  14. Whaddya mean, he's not real!?!?! Don't tell me.... I don't want to know!
    Great post, I love the look on the faces of the children.

  15. Fantastic photos, Ginnie! You made me smile and my heart skip a beat.

    OMG! Do you know that after all these years going to Holland, I was never there on that day? The costumes are so beautiful and colourful. The outfits in he wears in Switzerland are the same as in Germany.

    It's also funny how the fables change from country to country. Here (as in Germany), he comes from the Black Forest and a donkey. Do we just have a poorer version?? ;)

  16. Wow, it's so confusing what to think is best. My mother was always skimpy on the holiday traditions. She cooked delicious food, but didn't get into making a magical fairytale experience with trees and lights and stories of Santa Clause coming. The Easter Bunny didn't come sometimes. I grew up feeling sorry for myself as I watched my friends get pampered and showered with gifts. Of course, I am sure it didn't help that we were on welfare and my mother was trying to put herself through school as a single mother.

    Then, I dated Scott, and his parents were the king and queen of holiday celebrations. Christmas was HUGE! It wasn't necessarily about the quality of the Christmas presents, it was about the quantity of presents. Present after present after present piled up under the tree. Stocking stuffers galore! It really did make up for all the years I'd missed out on it.

    And now, here I am with two kids of my own and I want to share that with them. I want to play the little games and tricks on them, and they want it, too! But, Swede doesn't believe in creating this illusion for his children. He won't partake in it at all, and so, neither do I, out of respect. He wants his children to be firmly grounded in reality. I guess it's because he grew up the other way around, with the mystical, and it was painful for him to try escape the clutches of the traditions he was expected to follow but didn't believe in.

    And can you believe, last time Wyatt came over, one of the first things he said to me was, "Guess what I want for Christmas." Why did that completely rub me the wrong way? I guess as parents we are EXPECTED to partake of this consumerist holiday or we are party poopers. I know, that's how I felt about my mother for many years. And now, I am sure that's how our children will feel about me. But, I am thankful that my mother stuck to her guns, because she was right, and I know someday the kids will understand where we are coming from.

  17. I always preferred the European version of "Santa Claus" even though I grew up with the tradition of a jolly fat man arriving from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

  18. Boy did you bring back some great memories of my child hood when i was a little girl in Germany, I know this is in Holland but some of the traditions were the same. Seems like the tradition in the old countries are so much better than here in the states.

  19. I totally know what you mean Ginnie - I totally sat there and had to watch and listen. Traditions are so rooted in Europe, it's sort of awe inspiring. But what I like most is the thought and difference..

    It is all so different than the states!

    Such a beautiful post. Agh, I'm so tired and finally 2 days off from work. It's been a while!

  20. Kathryn: I totally agree! I think I am finally having my childhood given to me on a silver platter. AND HERE IN HOLLAND!

    Astrid: YES YES YES. I am very glad. December 5th will never be the same!

    Moi: You have hit the nail on the head! You keep what's worth keeping and blow the rest away. Thanks, Moi.

    Ex-S: HA! We all are those children, I think!

    CS: All the versions in Europe sure beat the heck outta the States, I think! So glad I could give you a smile. :)

    Swedehart: In our conservative Christian homes, it's very hard to know what to think! Confusion reigns rampant! I'll never forget a little sermonette Bill preached once when he said that God was the one who thought up the concept of presents/gifts. I've never forgotten that! It helps me to think better on WHAT I give. Thanks for taking the time and energy to write your thoughts!

    Karen: I bet! Now that will be true for me as well! :)

    L&N: I guess the traditions in Europe are deeper/richer because...they're OLDER. Our country is so young in comparison. I think that may have a lot to do with it?

    ET: Different is a good word! I guess that's exactly what I was feeling. This is so...different from what I'm used to!

  21. Ginnie, we knew the stories of Santa Claus; but we never believed of him as real. But he was fun for our imaginations. :) Mom and Dad were good that way; they didn't hide us from these cultural traditions