It’s Sinterklaas day today! Today is when the Dutch celebrate Christmas. For my family, it involves setting out wooden shoes on December 5th and waking up on the 6th to find chocolate, various dutch cookies, and small gifts – usually an ornament – filling those shoes. Such a fun time. And by the way, Mom, thanks for passing on the gifts from Sinterklaas this year… we’ve already enjoyed some of the stroopwafels and speculaas; they’re going to go fast!
I have to tell you, though – we’ve tamed the tradition. There are aspects to Sinterklaas day that are adhered to in Holland, but in the States, they’d be quite against the law for the sake of the “tender child’s psyche.”
You see, when my grandparents were children, Sinterklaas day meant a house visit from Sinterklaas himself, accompanied by his helper, Zwarte Piet:
Sinterklaas was nice enough, being the spirit of the day and all. And Zwarte Piet was not supposed to be considered an evil-spirited character, either. Children were told that if they were good, Piet would bring them sweets and presents. If they were bad, however, Piet would not give them anything, except maybe coal (I don’t remember if it’s coal, or if it’s nothing.)
Santa, elves, coal. That sounds familiar, right? Except the dutch have taken it a bit further… you see, Zwarte Piet carries around a switch made of birch. Children are warned that those who are really naughty will be beaten by that switch for their bad behavior. Piet also has a sack, and parents will go on to say that if the children are even naughtier, Zwarte Piet will stuff them in that sack, take them to Spain, and turn them into pepernoten, which is a type of Dutch candy. On Sinterklaas day, parents can’t really tell their children what to expect.
It’s no wonder my Oma used to hide under the table when Sinterklaas arrived.
Below I’ve shared a satirical reading by David Sedaris that begins with a reference on his dislike for guidebooks and eventually leads him to express his concerns over the more alarming aspects of this Dutch Holiday, explained in even more detail than I have already shared.
There are three parts to it: The first two are a little under 7 minutes each, and the third is 3 minutes. You need to play them back to back, as one leads immediately into the other, mid-sentence. With that in mind, this is something to watch when you have 20 minutes to spare. It is entirely worth it, in my opinion, as it’s quite funny!
One more thing: I DO NOT recommend you watch the actual youtube videos. Just pull them up, hit play, and then hide the screen. They play completely random videos during the reading and I think some of them might be inappropriate, but I don’t remember.
So again, just listen. Don’t watch. And enjoy a good laugh!