The Christmas season has officially begun in Holland. I can turn on the holiday music without thinking “It is not even Thanksgiving yet.” Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, arrived last Sunday from Spain. No, not the North Pole. This Saint is smarter, (and historically accurate) hailing from a much warmer climate.
Dressed in his red cape and flowing white beard, Sinterklaas came to town by boat and horse (not flying reindeer) along with his many helpers – the “Piets” (think elves with lots and lots of soot on their faces), to parade through Amsterdam as marching bands played and the Piets tossed pepernoten (spiced cookies) and candy to the crowd of thousands.
This was just a prelim. On the eve of December 5th, before the feast day of St. Nicholas on the 6th, Dutch children young and old will lay out their shoes (not stockings) with maybe a carrot inside them, (for Sint’s white steed) by the chimney or back door for Sinterklaas and the Piets as they ride across rooftops to drop treats and presents into them. This is the big day for kids here in Holland, not Christmas.
If you live here and are wondering what all the chocolate letters are for in the shops, now you know. These letters, special poems, treats, hot chocolate and presents will make this special holiday celebrated here feel more than gezellig (according to Wikipedia: Dutch word which, depending on context, can be translated as convivial, cozy, fun, or nice atmosphere, but can also show someone belonging, time spent with loved ones, the fact of seeing a friend after a long absence, or the general togetherness that gives).
If any of this sounds familiar to Americans, it should. European immigrants coming to America in the 1700s brought these festive St. Nicholas traditions with them and they morphed much later into our version of Santa Claus and his merry toy building elves.
All around town you can feel the season upon you. Windows are decorated, festive lights are hung in the streets and holiday music is streaming in the shops. Outdoor markets are filling with Christmas decorations and I just saw gluehwein mix for sale at the Albert Hein. Normally, I would not indulge in the festivities until THE DAY AFTER Thanksgiving when my husband reluctantly agrees to tune into the stations playing Christmas music in the car and he carries down numerous boxes from the attic filled with decorations for the house. This was, of course back in the US. So, when in Rome….
I am feeling more than a little excited about celebrating Christmas here in Amsterdam with my family. I even found a delivery service that will bring your Christmas tree to your front door. The Dutch have come along way in customer service, which is good since we left our car back in the US with all the Christmas decorations. Luckily, there will be many Christmas markets between now and then and I won’t have to travel far to stock up.