December 9, 2011

UnDutchable: Sinterklaas Surprises

Last week Sunday I celebrated Sinterklaas with my family for the very first time. We gathered at my cousin's house for drinks and a 'borrel' (snacks) before he was 'due' to arrive; the adults sat and chatted in the living room whilst my 6 year old cousin Guusje flitted between the kitchen, living room and entrance to check if her loot had arrived. As far as tradition goes, 'pakjesavond' (presents evening) is when Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piets travel across Holland to deliver a sack of gifts to the children who have behaved well. Hopefully they'll stick to the list that the children had written two weeks prior and naughty children get lumps of coal in their shoes instead (Sucks for them...) This is quite a big business in Holland and people are even hired to dress as Zwarte Pieten and climb on rooftops to make it all more believable.
Everytime we heard a horse trot by on the cobblestoned pavement (as you do quite often in Amsterdam) Guusje's face lit up...My uncle had hidden the bag of gifts in the attic earlier in the day but Guusje claims to have suddenly heard some commotion upstairs and ran towards the stairs. She found a letter from Sint on the attic ladder and had to read it out loud (I filmed all of this but it's quite painful to watch a 6 year old read a two page letter out loud..sounding.out.every.letter.of.every.word...) Finallyyyyy the loot was recovered from the attic: Two whole potato bags full of presents!!!
Each family member was given a hand written letter from Sinterklaas, highlighting the nice (or naughty) things they've done this year, why they might deserve some presents and a clue as to what they may be.  After each person unwraps their gift they're meant to say "Thank you Sinterklaas" to the man with the white beard (Who's always listening, of course) but a few times we slipped up and thanked each other directly. Oops!

As you can see from the photos, Guus was really excited to open her gifts and she couldn't believe her luck at getting most things on her list! I really hope to pass this tradition on to my children; it seems a lot less commercialised than our traditional Christmas routine as the focus is more on wrapping your gift in a creative way so as not to reveal what's inside, putting a lot of effort into personalised letters (Which are usually very witty, naughty rhymes about the person) and keeping gifts under a certain budget.
It was also a great way to get into the holiday spirit, especially after a long weekend of birthday celebrations! :)


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