December 26, 2005

Dear Sinter ..

The blogosphere, it appears, is embracing the festive season with much warmth. Everyone's in on it, all the way from meghalomania to 2x3x7. So, on this fine twenty-fifth, one shall depart from custom to post something that can be described, at least by those of an accommodating nature, as relevant. Yes. One shall divulge, to anyone who cares to listen, how Christmas is celebrated in this part of the world.

Christmas in the Netherlands isn’t about gifts. It’s about spending a quiet time at home, with the family. With large, profusely-decorated Christmas trees, good food and soft music. It’s about togetherness and goodwill, not about crass commercialism.

But wait, says the gentle reader. What about Santa Claus? How are Dutch kids persuaded to behave themselves? How do they learn the nuances of letter-writing and the art of presenting themselves in the best possible light without sounding unduly boastful? And, pray, what happens to their old stockings?

These concerns, if felt, are largely unfounded. For Holland has its own gift-giving patriarch. His name is Sint Nikolaas, generally shortened to Sinterklaas. And he .. er .. wraps up the gift-giving on the fifth of December. One presumes that this gives the children enough time to vivisect their newly-acquired trinkets and finish their candy, so they can focus on putting their best foot forward when distant relatives* show up at Yuletide.

One caught a glimpse of Sinterklaas when he came to town a few weeks ago. He is large and corpulent, and he has a flowing white beard and a red robe. But there the similarity to Santa ends. For he does not go ‘ho-ho-ho’, he does not carry a sack of sweets, and he is generally more dignified of apparel and bearing than is good ol’ Santa. He is not associated with reindeer, sleighs, elves, or the North Pole. Rather, he is supposed to come down from Spain each year (in a steamboat, no less) with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who gives out yummy goodies to the nice children and none to the bad.

It is, of course, no coincidence that Sinterklaas and Santa Claus sound very similar. The myth of Sinterklaas travelled with the Dutch settlers of the seventeenth century to the New World, to the city that was then New Amsterdam and is now the Big Apple, where it merged with the legend of the jolly old gentleman who goes by the name of Father Christmas in Britain to this very day **, and was then subjected to a variety of influences ranging from the Ghost of Christmas Present (Did Dickens intend the pun? Did he?) to Coca-Cola to give us the Santa we know and love.

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great year ahead.

* One has often wondered if the children here feel the many and varied emotions that we of the Desh feel when it comes to distant relatives. One shall inquire forthwith and inform the gentle reader in due course.

** Father Christmas is now accepted to be the same figure as Santa, but it seems his genesis lies in ancient Anglo-Saxon myths that can be traced back, ironically, to pre-Christian times.


Megha said...

Caution : Longish unrelated-to-post comment follows

Okie, here's what happened. We read blog, flipped, read some more, flipped some more and so on, until we were rather giddy, at which point we finally stopped the flips and sat down to write this comment.

We are also kicking ourselves for not having visited sooner. If you notice, you've stopped by our home before and left a kind and generous comment too, and ingrates that we are we did not even reciprocate. Okay, so we have our excuses but what good are they when we are the ones that lost out, I say. Tsk tsk.

Anyhoo, we have devoured your archives *satisfied burp* as a way of making amends so please to forgive. And thankoo for the link love. May we do the same?

Cheers! And best wishes for the season :)

the Monk said...

Sounds good...better, actually...anyway, have a great holiday...haven't seen you around lately...

One in a Billion said...

Megha : One shall bow deeply and welcome you (all) to this humble blog. One shall also take this opportunity to gush unabashedly and reveal that one has already gone through the archives at the Clouds. Several times.

And a link would, of course, induce considerable cheer and merriment. Honoured.

Monk : Yes, amigo, this has been a longish break. One hopes to make amends soon.