dinsdag 18 december 2012

Christmas movies - Romance

During the Holidays there are a lot of movies with a lot of drama, but there are even more romantic movies. Everybody wants to meet their one true love around this time so they can have someone special to spend Christmas with. This means that there are a lot of Christmas movies that focus on that, and here are a few that I really like in chronological order:

All I Want for Christmas (1991)
Teenager Ethan (Ethan Embry) and his little sis Hallie (Thora Birch) have divorced parents. To make matters worse, their mother is dating Tony who she's about to marry. But they both dislike Tony so much, that Hallie asks Santa to get their parents back together for Christmas. She also realizes that she might have to help him a little. So Hallie and Ethan launch a masterful scheme to make it happen. Meanwhile Ethan has his first romantic crush on Stephanie and has to find a way to talk to her.

Why watch it? Seriously, have you seen Ethan Embry? He's so cute, for ever and always. Especially at this young age! It's a cute kids movie with enjoyable 'evil' characters as well as a nice story about two kids who simply try to get their divorced parents back together.  For some reason I always liked it as a kid. It's romantic, funny and has child pranks in it. Maybe you'll have to be younger to really appreciate it, but I definitely would love to watch this movie once again.

A Christmas Romance (1994)
Julia is a widow with two little girls. She lives on a farm that was in her husbands family for generations and as a single mother she is struggling to pay the rent. For that reason banker Brian comes along, right before Christmas to tell her to pay up, or they will have to leave the farm. While the oldest daughter Deenie is suspicious of the man, Emily Rose thinks of him as the Christmas Stranger and welcomes him with open arms. Due to a snow storm Brian gets stuck, while Julia and the girls have to do some hard manual labour because there's no hot water and no electricity. A beautiful story about two people who open each other eyes to what they've been missing.

Why watch it? In a way it's a classic. It is for me at least. We all know Olivia Newton-John from Grease and I remember watching this movie a couple of years in a row. The story is smart (all romcoms are a little bit alike, but this one still feels different), the comedy is good, but what speaks about it the most is nature. For some reason this movie feels more like a genuine Christmas movie, because of the scenery. It looks like it came from a Christmas card.But the daughters can be a bit irritating at times (the way young children can be), so that's my only downside of this film. A little fun fact is that Deenie is actually played by Olivia's real daughter. Other than that, it's just a real romantic story where two people get to know each other and fall in love. There's simply no reason not to watch it. 

While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a ticket collector and has had a crush on a man that comes by every day. One day he is mugged and falls on the track, but luckily she saves him just in time. At the hospital she first learns his name, Peter. A mix-up occurs and the entire family thinks she's his fiancé. She doesn't have the hard to correct them. Immediatly she is taken in by the family - and having no family herself - she enjoys every minute of it. But her 'fiancé' has a very charming brother, Jack, who can't believe Peter would fall for a girl like Lucy. Then there's another question: What happends when Peter wakes up?

Why watch it? I love, love love this movie. It's a true romantic Christmas movie. Family they way it should be with a likewise Christmas celebration. The cast is amazing and the story is great. There's nothing bad to be said about it. Seriously! It's funny, sweet, with a little bit of drama, lovable characters and a lot of love.  What more do you want?

The Family Man (2000)
Nicholas Cage and Téa Leoni star in this Christmas story about a man who's lost the Christmas feeling and doesn't know what he's missing. He is an investment broker, but gets the chance of his life when his sports car and girlfriend are traded in for a mini-van and a wife and kids. All based on one different decision thirteen years ago. The fact is, he needs to adjust and learn, because he has no recollection of the past thirteen years... as a family.

Why watch it? Family's are crazy hectic and inlaws are even worse. In most movies that is... This movie is no exception. People say they don't want to get married or have kids for this reason, but once you get to know the amazing people and feel the love (yeah, I know what I sound like when I say it like that!) you know that they are truly missing out. That's what this movie is about. Of course it's funny, but the most enjoyable thing about the movie is, all the love that a family gives and recieves. And Christmas is about family, at least for me, so this movie fits that description perfectly.

Serendiptiy (2001) / Christmas in Connecticut (1992)
Talk about Serendipity: Jonathan and Sara meet by wanting to buy the very last pair of the same gloves. It has to be faith! They then spend a wonderful day together, but she leaves it up to faith if they will meet again after this wonderful (unplanned) date. It's not until years later, when they are both in a stable relationship (one is even about to get married) that they start to question about that date. They go looking for each other, which leads to many funny situations.
In Christmas in Connecticut Elizabeth is the hostess of her own cooking show and author of several cookbooks. Jefferson is a forest ranger who's house is burned down, but the only thing left in the rumble is Elizabeth's cookbook. Manager Alexander therefor asks her to make Jefferson a Christmas dinner on the show. But the secret is... she's not an amazing cook at all! Before the eyes of the entire country Jefferson and Elizabeth - who are two opposites - start to get to know each other.

Why watch it? For me Serendipity is not so much a Christmas movie because it partly happends around Christmas, but most of it takes place in between Christmasses. Therefor, it's not my favorite seasonal movie. But it's funny, the actors are hilarious and excentric and well..., it's a real romcom. I've seen it a couple of times, so the magic is kind of gone for me. But if you haven't seen it, it's extremely funny!Connecticut is one of those romcoms where two people are thrown together who do not belong together - opposites attract - kinda movie. In a very Christmas landscape. It's got the true Christmas feel and some nice moments. If you like the great outdoors and want to see something different from all the city movies, you'll probably like this one.

Love Actually (2003)
This one cannot be left out. The British Christmas romcom with a gigantic ensemble cast. It has several storylines which all interlink at one point and it starts about five weeks before Christmas. You go by week by week. There's rock and roll legend Billy Mack and his manager Joe, the married couple Juliet and Peter and his best friend Mark, writer Jamie and Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia, managing director Harry cheating with secretary Mia without his Karen knowing about it, Prime Minister David and new employee Natalie, body doubles for sex scenes John and Judy, colleagues Karl and Sarah and her brother Michael and then there's Daniel with his stepson Sam and his crush Joanna. A lot of stories with a lot of love.

Why watch it? This movie has a stellar cast, with a lot of great storylines. It's funny, touching, sweet, romantic and intersting. There's something for everyone. What's especially nice, is that all of the stories are very different from each other. That way, you feel like you are simply watching the various lives of many people. Instead of a repeat of everything. I have to admit that it has been a while since I've seen it, but you still hear 'Christmas is all around us' on the radio every year. And that brings back the entire movie. If you haven't seen it, you really should.

The Holiday (2006)
The American Christmas version of Tara Road about two women who are having man trouble in their lives so they decide to get away for a while, by swapping houses! Yes, that's right. Iris (Kate Winslet) decides to leave lovely charismatic England for the Holidays and go to Amanda's grand house with pool and everything you could wish for in L.A. Once there, they meet the most interesting people. Who knew the only thing both girls needed was a change of scenery to get some perspective on their lives?

Why watch it? It's the kind of movie that just gives you butterflies. In England you have the full on Christmas atmosphere, with the cute little cottage, a lot of Britishness and a fireplace. 
Great actors like Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black (in one of his best roles if you ask me) and Cameron Diaz are a great reason as well. My only little point of critique, would be some of the dialogue is incredibly bad. Mostly Cameron's and she plays it the same way: a bit to much and fake. But other than that the movie is a great romcom in every single way. What's even better is the people they meet across the ocean. Once you've seen it, you know it's the ultimate Christmas romcom.

Mrs. Miracle (2009)

Single dad Seth (James van der Beek) is having trouble with finding a nanny for his twins, who are out of control. Then Mrs. Miracle shows up on his door step and everything starts to make sense again. He's even open to meeting the charming Reba. She usually works for her travel agency, but her friend asks her to step in to direct the school's Christmas show. Seth and Reba both have their history in relationships, but grow closer and closer.

Why watch it? It's a wonderful Christmas story without to much exageration. It's not totally unbelieveble because it's downplayed and that makes it even more enjoyable. The characters well written and even better acted by the always wonderful Erin Karpluk. It's also nice to see James van der Beek in a role like this. He's very convinceble as a single dad and he doesn't overdramatize. Except for a few weird dialogues, this is a perfect romantic Christmas movie. And if you like Erin Karpluk and Christmas movies, be sure to check out Christmas Lodge (2011) and Eve's Christmas (2004). Not as good as this one, but they are both still very Christmas-y.

Watch Mrs. Miracle in full here:

All She Wants for Christmas (2006)/Christmas Mail (2010)
All She Wants  is about a Judith 'Noelle' Dunn - an accountant - who is trying to safe her town's toy factory. In the mean time a new visitor comes to town and starts working in the same factory. Whatever will happen between those two?
Christmas Mail tells the story of a postal carrier (Matt) and a mysterious woman (Kristi) who answers Santa's mail. However, her boss doesn't trust her and Matt is send to spy on her. She's full of Christmas spirit, but he is disillusioned. This task will probably be the best thing that ever happened to Matt.

Why watch it? These are the lesser ones of this list if you ask me. But All She Wants is nice, a little bit forced (or fake) sometimes, but the story is very Christmas-y (hello, toy factory, not to mention the entire town in Holiday spirits) and still enjoyable. Christmas Mail is pretty much the same way. These are the movies that you can watch if you are really into Christmas and you really feel like watching a seasonal movie, but you've seen all the other ones. 

Next up in my Christmas movies list: A Whedony Christmas. Of course I'm the kind of geek that loves to watch movies with my favorite actors in it. And luckily they do it plenty!

vrijdag 14 december 2012

Christmas movies - Drama

Next up in my Christmas movie list: Drama. The previous list also had some drama in it (just think of It's a Wonderful Life), and it's a good subject for Christmas movies. 'Tis the time of the year, when people think about others first and thereselves later. It's also the time when the people who have it bad, can bring a little bit of light back in their life. And that's something these movies have in commen.

Joyeux Noel (or Merry Christmas, 2005)
Joyeux Noel or Merry Christmas takes place during the Great War. When this war started, everyone said "We'll be home before the leaves hit the ground" but it ended up taking years. This movie is based on true events: the Christmas truce. On Christmas Eve 1914 the Germans, French and Scottisch fraternize and get to know the men who live on the opposite side of the trenches, their so called 'enemies'. You follow the lives of a Scottish priest and one of his students, a German opera singer and his wife and a French luitenant. Their stories beautifully intertwine and show humanity in time of war. <3

Why watch it? I could watch it every year. This is definitely one of my all time recommendations. It's a beautiful story about how German, French and Scottisch soldiers came together on Christmas Eve and decided not to fight during the Christmas days. They spend Christmas together. How beautiful is that? I always wondered about such things ('How can you just murder people, friends, other human beings?'). I first came across the history of the Christmas truce (because it really happenend during World War One), in high school, while doing a project. A couple years later I researched it some more and that's when I found this movie. Yes, it's a bit romantized, but it's still beautiful. The characters are great, the music is wonderful, just as the scenery. There's just something about the First World War that will always interest me. It also shows there's hope in time of war. So this movie is definitely a must. I hope it becomes a classic one day ;-).

(Thomas Kinkade's) Christmas Cottage (2008)
Another beautiful story that's based on true events. The Christmas Cottage is a look behind the inspiration for the painting that goes by the same title. Once painted by Thomas Kinkade and this movie shows how he became the painter everyone knows. During the Holidays Thomas and his brother come home, but find their mother in financial problems. So bad, that they might lose the cottage they grew up in. Thomas is played by Jared Padalecki and his mentor is played by Peter O'Toole. It's a very honest story that many people might recognize something in. Again, some things may be a bit exagerated, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

Why watch it? For one, Kinkade's paintings are magical. It's interesting to see some of his background. The story isn't very exagerated, it stays close to reality and the characters are played very well. Yes, some of them are a bit weird, but it's funny. And I love communities like this where everyone knows each other. I also must mention the wonderful work of Peter O'Toole here, as Glen. His performance is amazing! It's a true seasonal movie filled with Christmas spirit, not to mention the Christmas scenery. It's where paintings like this came from.

Christmas Child (2003) 
Jack (William R. Moses) is a reporter who's (adoptive) father died nine months ago, so Jack is not in the happiest of spirits. While he's working on a story in Dallas, Texas, he comes across a picture that spikes his attention. It leads him to his birthplace Clearwater, where he meets several townspeople and learns about the town's ornate nativity scene. He also starts discovering some things about his past...

Why watch it? It's a more grown up story and more on the serious side than most Christmas movies. Dialogue is kinda crappy, but most of the characters are interesting. Because it's sort of a mystery, it's about finding out the truth and you get sucked into Jack's research. It's not the best movie, of all movies I listed here. But it's still a nice movie, that's more mellow.

The Family Stone (2005)
Tagline: "Feel the Love" That pretty much says it all. Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) takes his girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet his family during the Holidays. She's an uptight, conservative, businesswoman and his family is eccentric and very outgoing. So is their annual Christmas celebration, which makes her feel very uncomfortable. And she doesn't exactly recieve a warm welcome either. Below this superficial storyline, there's much more (real) drama. 

Why watch it? The first time I watched this movie, I really did not like it. I thought it was terrible... I didn't like Sarah Jessica Parker in it, nor Rachel McAdams. And I really love her as an actress. It was all just a bit to heavy, I guess. And bitchy. The characters were to flat. Just having a gigantic load of famous actors (Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson and Luke Wilson), doesn't mean it will save the movie. Watching it again, I still didn't like it that much, but I was now prepared for the characters and I didn't mind them that much anymore. And I was surprised by how fast I warmed up to the irritating family members this time. So why watch it? Because not everybody has my taste and I think many people actually love this movie.

Noel (2004)
On Christmas Eve a series of events take place that link five strangers together. They meet each other at separate times. Rose (Susan Sarandon) is a woman who is struggling to cope with caring for her mother who has Alzheimer's. The second storyline focusses on Nina (Penelope Cruz) and Mike (Paul Walker), a couple, who are having relationship problems due to the fact that Mike gets jealous. Then there's Artie (Alan Arkin), an old waiter who searches for his wife... who died. The fifth story focusses on a young man, Jules (Marcus Thomas), who deliberately damages his hand so he can attend a Christmas party in the emergency room. There's also a very mysterious man, Charlie played by Robin Williams, who may be able to give Rose some perspective.

Why watch it? Noel has a stellar cast and no-one outshines the other. Their performance is simple, but intens. This makes their characters richer than most of the main stream Christmas movies, where you already know everything that's going to happen. The story is layered and has much detail. In a way it's like many other Christmas movies because it shows the pain in people's life, while also showing the love and happiness that usually accompanies these movies. It's been a while since I've seen this and it's not the best Christmas movie I've ever seen, but it has stayed with me ever since. There's something in the simplicity of this movie that's truly beautiful and touching.

The Christmas Choir  (2008)
Another wonderful story that's based on true events. A couple of weeks before Christmas Peter (Jason Gedrick) gets dumped by his fiancée Jill (Cindy Sampson) because he is emotionally detached and a workaholic. Peter, a succesful accountant, has his life turned upside down by this. While he's drinking at a lounge, Bob (Tyrone Benskin) walks up to him - a blues pianist and singer who works only for tips. Peter gets invited to his house, only to find out that this home is a shelter. While he meets the other occupants (and the caring Sister Agatha), he's amazed by their musical performances and decides to organize them into a choir. During their musical training, Peter and the other singers go through their own personal issues and grow together as a choir.

Why watch it? It's a little bit like As It Is In Heaven, which is one of my favorite movies. It's probably not the right word for it, but the movie is very 'little.' By that, I mean it's delicate. The story as well as the characters. Everyone has their own stories and nothing is rushed. They take there time, but it doesn't get boring. Even though it's a movie for the Hallmark Channel, it's not overly dramatized or cliché. It's simply 'little'. And because of that, it's worth watching. 

That's it for now. I hope everyone is already enjoying Christmas, their shopping and drinking hot chocolate. The snow here has dissappeared by now and I'm sad to say that we probably won't have a white Christmas this year. But fingers crossed, maybe we'll get a Christmas miracle! :D

maandag 10 december 2012

Christmas movies - Classics

It's no secret that I LOVE Christmas. I can't really put into words why, because it's kind of everything: The music, the lights, the beautiful decorations everywhere, the delicious sweets, the family time, the snow (when it falls) and of course the movies! To quote Lorelai from Gilmore Girls "It's the best time of the year!". It truly is. And because I love movies, especially the Christmas ones, I decided to fill the rest of my December blogs with some movies I would recommend to watch during the Holidays. The first blog: Classics!

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
This is probably the Christmas movie of all time. George Bailey (James Stewart) has a lot of problems and it's so bad, that he wants to end his life. He dreamed of getting out of the dull town he grew up in, but something always got in the way and when financial problems are added to it, he decides to jump of a bridge into the river. God has sent Angel Clarence to help George and rescues him, but George gets angry at him and wishes he was never born... Wish granted! George walks through the town he was never born in and sees how everthing is different. For his parents, his wife (Donna Reed) and the town - it's the difference that he made. And it all happends right before Christmas.

Why watch it? It's a Wonderful Life is a feel good movie that shows you life isn't as bad as you think it is. It tells you to look at the little things in life and how those things matter more. It's the ultimate Christmas movie, in the way that makes you think about compassion, friends and love. Watch this and you won't be dissapointed!

White Christmas (1954)
Everybody knows the song, but do they know the movie? White Christmas starts with Christmas 1944 during World War Two where Captain Wallace (Bing Crosby) - who is a famous singer/entertainer - and soldier Davis (Danny Kaye) entertain the American troops with songs and sketches. After Davis saves Wallace while they were under attack, Wallace is sort of manipulated into coming together and becoming one of the most famous acts in showbizz history. While in Florida, they decide to go to two sisters of an old army buddy, the Haynes sisters, and they fall for their charmes. Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera - Ellen) have some problems, so Davis helps them by giving them their train tickets. Tickets Davis and Wallace were using to go away for the holidays. So Wallace and Davis buy extra tickets and they end up going to Vermont together (all four of them) to have a wonderful Christmas. Unfortunatly there isn't any snow, so the local in - run by Wallace and Davis' former Colonel - is about to close. That's why Davis and Wallace decide to do their entire show there, to drum up some people for the inn. But will it work in time to save the inn?

Why watch it? There's the song 'White Christmas' for one. Then there's Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, hellooo! It's so sunny all the time, that it doens't really feel like a Christmas movie, but it's about Christmas and the Christmas spirit (a lot of Christmas movies are about financial issues, apparently). White Christmas is a classic musical, filled with songs, big sets and beautiful dance numbers. Perfect for the holidays!

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)
The movie starts with a household singing 'Meet Me in St Louis', because the World's Fair will be in St Louis in 1904 - which is where they live. When the movie starts it's 1903 and they have a year to prepare and look forward to this very big event. But father Smith soon breaks the hearts of his wife and four daughters by saying that he has been promoted to be a director of the company.... in New York. So they will have to move in January and miss the Fair. The ladies don't want to leave their lives and friends and possible boyfriends. This movie has an interesting way of depicting one year in the lives of the family Smith, with celebrations such as house parties, falling in love, All Hallow's Eve and of course Christmas.

Why watch it? I love this movie! And it's not just because Judy Garland stars in it. There are so many nice songs in there (The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door and Skip to My Loo) and it's a well rounded story. All the family members have something going on, which doesn't get dull one minute. You get a look in the lives of a family and it feels very natural. Even the songs! You have to wait a bit for the Christmas part though, because it's at the end, but I love watching this movie pretty much every year just for this song (in it's original version): <3 

A Christmas Carol
I think this needs no explanation or summery... There's a reason why it's a classic. Everybody should know Charles Dickens' story about Scrooge and the night he was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future. There have been many, many, many movie adaptations from the book, so take your pick. In a later blog I will name two very nice adaptations for kids, that I really like.

The Nutcracker 
Whether you see it as a ballet performance, an animation film, a movie with actors or any other way, it doesn't matter. This story belongs to Christmas. On Christmas Eve family and friends have gathered to decorate the Christmas tree and when they are done the children are sent for. Herr Drosselmeyer - godfather of Clara and Fritz and toymaker - has brought with him several presents, including a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a little man. Clara immediatly likes it, but Fritz breaks it on purpose. Once everybody has gone to bed, Clara returns to get the Nutcracker. Once the clock strikes twelve, a war ensues. The Nutcracker grows to lifesize, leading Gingerbread man soldiers to war against the three headed Mouse King and his mice. But is Clara dreaming or is it all reality?

The story was once written by Hoffmann's as The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. When it was turned into a two act ballet performance, the score was composed by none other than Tchaikovsky (nuff said :P).

Why watch it? I can't believe it, but while writing this, I was trying to find the one I watched as a kid. The animated version and this is the one (watch vid above). It turned out to be a Russian animiation from 1973 (:O). I didn't like the drawing much (and the story isn't entirely the same), but the story and the music of The Nutcracker will always be beautiful. Sometimes there's not much that has to be said about it... It's classical ballet and it's a Christmas classic. 

Sissi (Trilogy 1955/1956/1957)
I almost forgot this one, but it's on a German or Belgium channel every year. It's the romantisized story about Sissi who becomes a Young Empress (at the age of sixteen I believe) in Austria. There's a lot of drama (because of etiquette that she's not familiar with or has problems with), love and laughs - mostly thanks to Sissi and her right hand 'Herr Bockl'. It's all very grand, an epic Christmas story, with wonderful sights (mountains, palaces you name it), and a-ma-zing actors. Best way to tell you, is to show you. Unfortunately I couldn't find a trailer with subs, so I hope it's understandable:

Why watch it? It's three long movies, but the story is beautiful. It's a story about love and doing what's right for the country. Having to put yourself and your needs in second place. Romy Schneider is at her best, her mother Magda Schneider and the handsome Karlheinz Böhm are in it as well. The movies have beautiful sets, costumes, music and it's very funny as well. Let's not forget some great lines, like "Eine Kaiserin gehört zum Kaiser!" or
Sissi: "Wir bekommen ein Kind!"
Fransz: "Ist das War? Sissi, ist das werklich war?!"
Sissi: "Ja, ja!"

Wonderful... For some reason, I always remember those lines. LOL... Just watch it and you'll see ;-).

The Little Princess (1939)
I grew up with this movie, that stars Shirley Temple. It's a beautiful story about a little girl - Sara - (Shirley Temple) who's mother has died and who's father (Ian Hunter) is in a captain in the military. Because he has to fight in the war (Africa), he leaves her in an exclusive seminary for girls to be looked after. On her birthday there's a big celebration, but it ends abruptly when the principal gets a note saying that the captain has died. Because Sara has no place to go and no money, she has the work for the mean principal. Instead of her big beautiful room, she stays with the other little girl that works there, Becky, in the attic. All the while other stories take place between teachers, the neighbour and the fellow seminary girls. The good hearted Sara can't believe her father is dead, so everyday she goes to the military hospital to go look for her father... Will she find him?

Why watch it? I'm not sure it's an actual Holiday movie, but I do remember watching it during the holidays. The Little Princess is a sweet story about a girl who had everything and loses it all. Instead of dwelling on how bad things have gotten, she remains a daughter full of hope that she'll find her father. Shirley Temple was a kid star back then and she's adorable in every movie she's in. Other than that, this movie has a back story for everyone. Truly a classic. You can find it full on YouTube.

The Stowaway (1936) and other oldies
The Stowaway is not really a Christmas movie either, it's just old and has Shirley Temple in it as well. I do believe that it ends with Christmas though. For some reason I just think that oldies like these are perfect for watching during the Holidays. If you like watching oldies/classics like this, I also think many Judy Garland movies are appropriate. Like The Wizard of Oz, For Me and My Gal, Easter Parade and A Star is Born. Must be something with musicals, haha.

Why watch it? The Stowaway for Shirley Temple again, as well as the songs. It's a feel good movie with cuteness, comedy and romance. Need I say more? As far as the Judy Garland movies go: Who wouldn't want to watch a good old musical with Garland? They are all filled with beautiful songs and other great names like Fred Astaire. That's all you need to know, really ;-).

Well, that's the classics for my first Christmas movies list. Hope you get some good ideas from it and if not, check out my next blog for some more ideas!

donderdag 6 december 2012

Celebrating Sinterklaas (or "Saint Nicolas")

I know what you're thinking and no, it's not Santa Clause. Here in Holland, we have Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas). It's kinda the same, except he actually exsisted and nameday is the 6th of December. So, we celebrate it with presents on the eve of the 5th. He's originally from Turkey (even though a lot of people believe he's from Spain and most of the songs reference it as well) and he arrives in Holland mid November by steamboat. Anyway... I haven't celebrated it in years, but since I became a member of PINK! (no, not the singer but a political youthparty for the animals) I could celebrate it once again on the 30th of November with new friends as well as meet other members of the party. 

 (I also did some PR for the event, like this flyer. 
Sinterklaas is green in this one, because the theme was 
fairtrade, ecological and biological gifts)

Cupcakes, hot choc and presents

Of course we first waited until everyone was there. It was a good turn out (around 23 people) and the organisation had made vegan cupcakes as well as other vegan snacks. And soy hot chocolate with whipped cream, which was delicious. We made a circle and did this game with dice to either take a present from the pile and do a task (like saying the alfabet backwords or singing a Sinterklaas-song while you're standing on your head). It was a lot of fun! Once all the presents were fairly devided we read the Sinterklaas-poems (which are poems - well, they rhyme - written by Sinterklaas himself or by his helpers, usually the PoemPete), and unwrapped the presents. I got two present of which one is perfect for me. The first was a funny bike bell (tiger face) and the second was a whole lot of vegan chocolate - 4 bars! It's absolutley delicious, but I'm gonna try to save some for Christmas so I can share with my family *fingers crossed*. 

Afterwards a couple of people left right away, but several people hung around for a bit so we could chat. This was a lot of fun, because I got the chance to really meet a lot of my new facebook friends. We even started playing games (all though the group was now about eight or nine peeps) and this was simply hilarious. We started playing 'De Lama's', which is improv games. Like Clue -the opposite team will think of the most ridiculous person, weapon and place and without using any words one member shows another and so on untill the last person has to guess what it actually was - or the pet shop. In this game the owner knows the animal and it's problem/disease (again the most bizar things) and the pet owner has to guess what the animal is and the problem. It wasn't always easy... (mine was an ant who was missing...ugh), but it was so much fun! I'm glad I got to stay for that, even if it meant that I wouldn't be in bed until like 3.30 am. Here's hoping next year there will be a third! :D

The Man behind the Myth (more on Sinterklaas)

I figured it might be useful to explain Sinterklaas a little bit more. So (especially) for my English friends and all the other interested people, here some further information about the what's and how's of our holy man. 

Sinterklaas/Sint/Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas)

Sinterklaas has it's origin in Nicolaas from Myra (and Christianitian celebrations). Nicolaas was born in Patara, Lycia (now in Turkey) which was part of the Byzantine Realm in the year 208. He later became bisshop of Myra (the capitol city of Lycia) and died on the 6th of December 342. His remains (now holy) were stolen after the invasion of the Muslims in that area in 1087 and taken to Bari. Saint Nicolas is the patron of sailors and therefor West European nations began to pay respects to him (pray), but it wasn't until the 13th century that his nameday was determined to be the 6th of December.

There are different legends about Saint Nicolas as the protector of children. In the middle ages they celebrated Saint Nicolas in convents, where the saint appeared in (some sort of) a play and he rewarded good students and reprimanded the lazy ones. Today he caries a book with him where he can read who's been naughty and who was nice the past year. There is also a myth in which he gives three girls a dawry so they can get married (hence the gift giving). Sinterklaas also rides on roofs on his horse Amerigo (much like the God Odin who also rode on a white horse, but his could fly), so he could bring children their presents through the chimney. The white horse didn't always have this name. Around 1950/60 it was called 'Majestueuzo' and 'Bianca', while Amerigo has been used since the nineties.

There's also the image of Sinterklaas as some sort of boogeyman, who children could fear...

It wasn't until the late eighteenth century that people decided Sinterklaas should inspire good behaviour and was 'used' as a way of education. He had always been a mythical person, never to be seen, although he left traces by leaving shoes empty (see below).

The myth is celebrated in different ways
in other regions. It is celebrated anually on the 5th of December. The modern celebration probably has it's origin in the picture book Sint Nicolaas and his help (Sint Nicolaas en zijn knecht 1850) from teacher Jan Schenkman. Because it had pictures, this is where the image came from as an old man with white hair and a white beard, red cloak and hat. This is probably also where the story comes from that Sinterklaas came from Spain on a steamboat (instead of Myra) and he also introduced Black Pete/Peter.

Black Pete/Peter 

Sinterklaas has a lot of helpers - just like Santa has it's elfs. Only his helpers are called Black Peters and they are black. A lot of people don't think about it, but others find it racist. There's something to be said about that, because historically Black Peters could have been Moors (slaves at that time). Like you could read above, Black Pete was introduced by Schenkman in his book (also as a Moor). He didn't have a name back then, was a coloured young man, dressed like a page/page boy/servant. He had many different names through the years and in 1859 he was named Peter for the first time in an article, while 1895 Black Peter became the phrase. It wasn't until after the Second World War - where the Canadians organised a big Sinterklaas celebration with a whole lot of Black Peters - that many Black Peters accompanied Sinterklaas. As time passed each Black Peter got a speciality and they entertained children with acrobatics, jokes and practical jokes.

Schenkman was never clear about where Black Peter came from, so it isn't sure that it was meant as a slave. Peter mostly stays in the background and is a neutral figure. But the book was published when these issues were being discussed. Slavery was under pressure, or it was already discarded and Schenkman was very likely inspired about what was going on. Though there have been many discussions in the recent years, the traditional celebration of Sinterklaas (with Black Petes) has many fans. It even led to a research in 1998 where it turned out that 96% of the population saw Sinterklaas as a tradition and not as discrimination. This shows once again, that it's up to the interpretor what he/she sees and that Black Pete's don't have to be racist in this national celebration.

The traditions
Once Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands, children can begin to put their shoe out near a fireplace (if they have it, if not then near the door or window) for Black Peter. Since he accompied Sinterklaas, he is also the one going down the chimney. Kids can put their own drawings in their shoes, as well as lists for presents, poems, letters or something for his horse (like suger or a carrot). Usually they also sing Sinterklaas-songs for him as well and afterwards they go to bed. When they wake up, Sinterklaas has either left a little present or some candy in your shoe (if kids had been naughty they would get salt or nothing). This is a tradition since the fifteenth century, where people would place their shoe in a church and put something in it to give to the poor. This would happen on the 5th of December, right before his date of death: the 6th. 

'Pakjesavond' or the night of presents didn't (really) start until after World War Two. Because of finanicial prosperity people had more to give. Sinterklaas remained very mysterious though, untill at some point he became more of a grandfather kinda man, who came with Black Peter and bags full of toys. Father's or other friends/family members can dress up and surprise the children. Once you're no longer a child and get older, the evening celebration turns into an evening with friends or family in 'Secret Santa'-style. 

So far, this is what I know, have learned or have read about the origin of Sinterklaas.
You could also read more on these sites:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

And It wouldn't be my blog without some movie reference. There's one movie that depicts Sinterklaas as the bad guy from the 18th century: A really great (horror/comedy) movie is Saint (or Sint in Dutch) by Dick Maas. In this movie the St. Niklas is a man who kills and especially the Black Petes are very creepy (like the 18th century one).

(Trailer 'Sint' Dutch version)

 (Trailer 'Saint' - dubbed in English)