Who coulda guessed? A woman past 60 conceiving? But it’s not a fantasy, it’s true, folks. I’m expecting! Tomorrow! I know, I’m in shock, too. I can’t believe it! But as the calendar rolls into Sinterklass Season, I, along with thousands of little Dutchies, am expecting the arrival of Sinterklaas. And the gezelligheid of the year-end holidays in Amsterdam.
On November 18, St. Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, will arrive in A’dam, ushering in the festive season. Arriving from Spain, his steamboat will cruise through the canals before docking by Central Station, across from Sint Nikolaaskerk, around 11:30. The 2012 fun will include performances in Dam Square by Sint’s Speciale ROC Swingband and the junior Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw, conducted by Peter Guidi.
Bells will toll and children will scream as Burgemeester Harry Slinger welcomes the kindly saint before he trots off on his white horse for the parade down Damrak to Rembrandtplein. Accompanied by some 600 Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete) servants, brass bands, zany floats, merry jesters and cycling clowns, Sinterklaas will troop to Leidseplein, where he’ll address the cheering hordes from the Stadsschouwburg (city theater) balcony around 14:15.
Sinterklaas Travels (and Does Good Deeds)
Since anything goes when it comes to the kindren in Holland, Amsterdam’s annual Saint Nicholas parade is hugely popular. Celebrated since 1934 and televised live on national television since 1952, it attracts 300,000+ young Dutchies and is supported by the efforts of many municipal workers.
After hanging around the Dutch capital, Sinterklaas and his helpers will visit other Dutch cities, stopping by hospitals, schools, shops, restaurants and homes in the three-week run-up to December 5, Eve of St. Nicholas, when children receive presents in exchange for a year of goodness. Like America’s Santa Claus (a tradition introduced by the first Dutch settlers), Sint and his nimble Piets have curious and inquiring minds, which they use to assess kids’ behavior throughout the year and to spy on them through chimneys or, worse yet, modern technology!
Hoping they won’t be carted off to Spain for errant deeds or general mischief, kids leave carrots in their shoes to placate Sint’s horse and inspire his iconic rider to leave candy or a small gift. If they’ve been good, they’re likely to receive a short, funny poem about themselves from Sinterklaas.
Could We Get Away With This in America?
Picture a regal Caucasian gent swathed in red robes, wearing a bejeweled crown, toting bags filled with candy and gifts, assisted in his charitable duties by black servants. Back in the Middle Ages, a black servant symbolized the devil forced into obedience by Saint Nicholas. Sinking lower (if that were possible in Holland), Saint Nicholas’ companion was traditionally a devil-like person. Would this wash in America? I think not!
In Holland, bad feelings about the Zwarte Piet color controversy are explained with the story that Saint Nicholas’ servant boy has dark skin because he’s slithered down so many chimneys delivering gifts. Recently, harsher opponents have been placated by rainbow-colored Black Petes, which really, if you think about it, makes no sense at all. Except in Amsterdam!