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:

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)

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten