Monday, December 06, 2010


First of all, yesterday was Sinkerklaasdag (= Santa Claus Day), 5 December. It happened to be MY ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SINCE ARRIVING HERE IN THE NETHERLANDS! Can you believe it? I will always love this special date and always, always will say "Yes, Virginia, there is a [Sinterklaas]!"

Speaking of which, remember a few posts back when Sinterklaas came to town? He did, indeed, and two weeks later was yesterday. No matter what day of the week 5 December is, it is not a holiday. People still go to work and maybe get off an hour or two early. But the actual celebration is the evening of the 5th...not Sinterklaas Eve, the night before (like our Christmas Eve) or Sinterklaas morning. For kids who still believe, it's always Sinterklaas night. There may be a few exceptions to the rule, when schedules need to be worked around the adults, but this is the tradition.

Synonymous with Sinterklaasdag, once a child crosses the line from believing to not believing in Sinterklaas anymore, is the concept of making a SurPRISe (pronounced like the French sur-PREEZ-a). At that point, a surprise gift is made by one person for another person in the person, one gift...and part of the SurPRISe is that no one else knows who will be surprising whom. Along with the gift a humorous but very specific poem is written for that person, who has to read it aloud before opening his gift.

This year, Astrid and I were not part of Sinterklaas festivities because her son was with his girlfriend Eva at her family's celebration. Lucky for you because here's a rendering of his SurPRISe for the name he picked: Alex, the father of Eva. Because not even Eva could know whom Jeroen picked, he had to come over here to our house to make the SurPRISe.

FIRST, gifts from a wish-list with a €25 maximum total value were wrapped.

You'll understand something about Astrid when I tell you she was in heaven doing this with Jeroen. She has so many memories of making and doing things with her son over the years. It was like old times for her and she reveled in it. I was the lucky one watching and taking the pictures.

Because Alex and his wife enjoy traveling, Jeroen decided to make a paper-mache globe, inside which he put his gifts. This particular family has rules about not using tools to open their surPRISes, so Jeroen made sure it would not be easy to open this one. Alex would have to work hard for what he got.

The finishing touches were done inside our storage closet where the globe could dry. You should have seen the two of them looking up maps on the internet to figure out the shapes and positioning of continents. They did it all free-hand. So fun to watch.

That was two weeks ago. And because it was a surPRISe, it stayed with us till Jeroen came back to pick it up before the family Sinterklaas party. He's one happy camper. But of course! He should be. And on a very snowy day here at our senior-living complex.

He left with very strict instructions from me to take pictures of Alex opening the globe and taking the presents out (since I had neglected to take pictures of putting them in).

KIJK eens! (Look!) This is what he came up with....

First, Alex had to break claw through the paper mache...

...then through the wire mesh that held everything together... the presents inside. Mission accomplished!
Look at the mess afterwards...from only 6 people.
This is what Sinterklaas is all about, Folks.


Now...speaking of my first-year anniversary here in Holland, I was looking at my first post from a year ago, 8 December, where I talked about the Small Pleasures of this country. The grote speculaas cookies, the dates, the brussels sprouts...still the small pleasures I so much enjoy. Nothing has changed in that department, except to add mandarin oranges, which we eat all year 'round but which are much cheaper and more plentiful during these winter months.

And MY SurPRISe of this Christmas season, received and opened on Saturday, in time for Sinterklaasdag yesterday (drum roll please):
All I have to do now is go to pick up my card within the next two months.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus! Yes, Virginia, there's a God in Heaven above....a reason for the season and myriad angels singing Hallelujah!

I bawled like a baby when I saw this YouTube (racing around the world).
This, I told Astrid, is what Sinterklaas and Christmas and this season is all about for me.
Talk about a SurPRISe.



  1. I am so glad I quickly scanned your post tonight! What a way to be sent off to bed with that fabulous YouTube video! I will be back for more, as it is late now. But I too just loved it - the last thing one would expect at a mall food court.

  2. Receiving the staying permit was the biggest gift you could get just before the Sinterklaas day.
    Being in the Netherlands for one year minus one day, yes we had a lot to celebrate ;)
    The story about making the SurPRISe is very well done, I love the pictures and I am glad Jeroen took many pictures to show the result of the unwrapping.
    General this is what happens on Sinterklaas, it is one time a year you can tease a person and get away with it (within limits of course).
    It is a feast of family gathering.
    Thank you once again for this wonderful set of collages, when I looked back in your 'In Soul' blog, it is amazing what we did in 'just one year'.
    The YouTube at the end says it all, Hallelujah indeed.
    Een dikke kus en ik hoop op nog meer gelukkige jaren met jou.

  3. I wrote that probably before but here Santa comes on 6th and than again on 24th. I liked the idea about the globe:)Self made gifts are always the best-unless you can't do anything (like me;-)

  4. Tears in my eyes (sharing your joy) reading the last part of this post (not from the video which I've already seen twice, but from your joyful news of the staying permit)!

    As for the rest of the post... once again the story is wonderful and the picture collages fabulous. What fun... and the packaging is so creative! (gobsmacked... a wonderful word... as always... thanks for stopping by my blog... have been REALLY busy here so missed posting the past couple of days)

  5. So much joy! I LOVED every inch of this post. Astrid and Jeroen did a fabulous job with that globe, I would have loved doing that too. Then handsome Alex opening, so fun! And the mess!

    Congratulations on the 5-year extension!!!!!! Don't forget to pick up the card. :)

    The mall Hallelujah is just so incredible. I bawled too.

    I love you both. And tell Astrid I am sorry I have not replied to her email of much too long ago, and I am sorry, and I do not deserve any SurPRISes!


  6. hallelujah indeed.

    i like learning about new things, like this sinterklaas.

  7. This is the loveliest, greatest and most happy post I've red for long!

    Belated Happy Celebrations and congrats with you're permanent stay and welcome as an EU citizen :-)

    Btw: someone twittered about a possibility to see you soon - can hardly wait!

  8. Margaret: That video is rocking the world in waves. Don't you love it! I bawl every time I watch it. So powerful. Thanks for commenting on it.

    Astrid: It was 'just like God' to get the staying permit in time for Sinterklaasdag, mijn vrouw. That means I have had permission to stay for 6 years in Holland within my first year here. Can't beat that. I am so grateful. And yes, all these things I am learning about your country...I love them all but YOU are the Gift. YOU are the surPRISe!

    Ola: Yes, also in Germany Sinterklaas comes on the 6th. Makes you wonder why the difference? You'd think it'd be the same all over Europe. And yes, homemade gifts really are the best and the ones that mean the most.

    Victoria: Your tears of joy mean the world to me. Thank you. Sometimes I forget that others really are following my story, wondering what will happen next. :) Thank you, too, for following these posts of my life here. It is such a wonderful journey for me and I know it shows!

    Ruth: Joy is a good word for what I experience here in this country, Sister. You already know this. I love learning about these new traditions for me. Some things make so much more celebrating the gift day before Christmas.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned not to forget to pick up my staying-permit card. HA. Wouldn't that be a bummer. :) And Astrid says NOT to worry about the e-mail. She "knows how that goes," she says. :)

    PC: Thanks, Maria. Learning new cultures helps to bring the world together as one, as you know so well!

    Renny: You're such a sweetheart, dear sir. There is so much joy to experience in your cultures over here. I bet Diane expresses this to you every year. And yes, God willing and the creek don't rise, we'd love to think we'll meet you all no later than spring this next year. We'll shoot for that! It's about time. :)

  9. Has it been a year already? Wow! How wonderful that they extended your permit, now you can breathe easy. How long until permanent residence or do you have to become a citizen for that?

    My goodness, the Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands are much more complicated than Nikolaus in Germany. You wonder who thinks these things up and how they have evolved over the years. Love the present that Jeroen created!

    And how about that Hallelujah Chorus? Who wouldn't be moved by that. Fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, my friend.

    P.S. I promise to stay in touch more in 2011! Using all my energy just to stay upright and make it through the day at the moment. :-)

  10. Congratulations on receiving your extended permit for the next 5 years, this is very good news for you and Astrid. I enjoyed the pictures of the making of the surpise present, very imaginative and quite an achievenment for the recipient to get into it without using any tools!
    I haven't done much towards Christmas this year, whith packing, moving, then unpacking, it's been a whirlwind of activity, plus we are rehearsing for our Christmas Cancert (Wed 15th), no time to do much else. But today I'm off to do some Christmas shoppong..... it's about time!

  11. Oh Ginnie, I got a big lump in my throat reading that last bit! Wonderful, wonderful news. (But honestly - how could they possibly have refused you??? You're a one-woman Dutch tourist organization!)

    This was a wonderful post and I think Jeroen's idea was absolutely fabulous. This is what Christmas should be - not just buying things for the sake of it. Now I want to spend a Dec 5 in Holland, moving on to Vienna for the 25tyh!

    That video was taken in Welland, Ontario, I believe, where my youngest son's girlfriend hails from. I saw the Macy's New York version and thought the food court singers were better!

    That sort of thing always makes me choke up - singing is, as somebody once said upon hearing this very piece of music, 'the purest form of human expression', and I almost agree with that. I think touch wins out, though.
    Merry Christmas, Ginnie!

  12. Christina: Yes, it really has been a year. Unbelievable to me, too. Indefinite staying time happens after this 5-year stint, I believe. But it doesn't mean I will become a citizen...only if I give up my American citizenship, which I don't plan on doing. So I'll just maintain a residence permit. Maybe 2011 will be a better year for you physically? I sure do hope so. Maybe we'll even have a chance to rendezvous again. I would like that.

    Sham: Thanks you for your congrats. I feel so very lucky. You are such an amazing woman...with all your moving activities, you're still doing so this hectic time of the year, of course. You'll be so ready for a long winter's nap. :)

    Deborah: Interestingly, I never once worried about not getting my residence permit, either the first or second time. Not to be cocky about it but if they wouldn't accept me, whose marriage to a Dutch woman they sanctioned, who else would they accept???

    That Hallejulah video has truly been the inspiration of this holiday season for so many. Music really is 'the purest form of human expression.' I totally agree. It can change the mood almost anywhere in a split second. It and human touch, as you have so well expressed! Thank you.

  13. What a wonderful, joyful post. I love how they celebrate Sinterklaas. We lived in Belgium for a year with very young children and brought back the Sinterklaas tradition with us. Sinterklaas STILL visits us every December 5, but alas not with the kind of celebration you recorded here. The Hallelujah choir got me right in the heart when I heard it a couple of weeks ago. What celebration! And congratulations on your card!

  14. RD: I would love to know who you are and how you found me! Belgium is our next-door neighbor, of course, just a couple hours away. I bet you have great memories from that year. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  15. Oh, my gosh that sounds like so much fun. What a great surPRISe. And I'm so happy for you about the residence permit card.

    I was just thinking about you and the speculaas cookies recently. I can't remember why, now, although I know i've been talking about Belgium and Amsterdam with a couple of people lately.

  16. It completely slipped my mind that it's been a year. Ok - pregnancy fatigue and lack of being able to read posts at night too!

    I cannot believe it!! One year already and 5 years to add on! Yeah!!! I don't even get that long and I've already applied for citizenship... Well I just have to reapply.

    What a great post. I love wrapping up presents like that so they are so hard to get into. My dad was the king of wrapping up surprises and taught well..

    Great video at the end as well!

    :) smiling because of you!


  17. A great post with many joys. So many things to celebrate! God is good!

  18. Karen: I do feel so lucky! To think I have received residence-permit status of 6 years before the end of my first year here. Who would have believed it! Thanks for sharing the joy with me.

    ET: I can only imagine your fatigue these days, Jen. That was a long time ago for me but how can we ever forget! We're both in our own expat journeys, yes, and it's interesting to share stories from different countries. I feel very lucky, for sure. Thanks for smiling with me!

    Tim: God is indeed good. I have so many joys to celebrate at the end of this great year! Thank you.

  19. I think Sint Nicolaas' birthday was December 6th, so the fifth is the eve of Sinterklaas, or "avondje van Sinterklaas" as the song says. So really the sixth ought to be called Sinterklaasdag, if you ask me.

    I love the wereldbol! Ingenious!

  20. What a great post you wrote. This is wonderful that you receive this 5-year extension – I am sure it is a great relief for you and an early Christmas present for sure.

  21. DB: HA! When I asked Astrid about this, she rolled her eyes and said, "I can't get into an argument about that! It's a topic that's always opened up every year." She said all she knows is the kids never associate Sinterklaas with the 6th, like they do in Germany. Interesting. Maybe in the next years they'll all figure it out?

    Vagabonde: Astrid and I are both very relieved to know my extension is for another 5 years. If it's anything like this past year, it'll fly!