Sinterklaas is coming to town
December 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Or is it Saint Nicolas? Or Sint Nicolaas? Whatever you call him, the tradition in Belgium is that he arrives the night of December 5th. This is his only appearance here—he doesn’t really figure into Christmas eve or day at all. He is one of the main figures that the Santa Claus of North America is based on, though here he is often depicted as accompanied by the controversial figure of Zwart Piet (or “Black Pete,” who has a confusing history, probably in large part to cover up or alter a racist origin. Oh, and in Wallonia and in parts of northern France this sidekick is called Père Fouettard. Who can keep it all straight?!). Anyway, Saint Nicolas carries a bag with oranges, sweets, and small gifts for the children who have been good, and the children who have been bad get a spanking from a switch. Or do they get carried away in the bag? To be honest, we really don’t know.
Needless to say, we sort of made up our own version of things. We hung our stockings instead of putting shoes by the door (unfortunately no fireplace this year). Apparently the kids were supposed to leave drawings or poems or some other offering, so we will have to do that next year. We did leave out cookies and a beer for jolly-old-what’s-his-name and some carrots for the reindeer, though as it turns out it’s actually a horse, a relic of the Nordic or pagan origin of the story. (We are very much in loose-interpretation territory here.) We also thought it sounded much better to do all of this on a weekend rather than a school morning, so we bumped it one day later to Saturday. It’s more fun to enjoy gifts with a pancake breakfast than while being yelled at to brush your teeth. Sometimes it’s nice to have the freedom to put your own spin on tradition.