Memories Of Sinterklass
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My parents kept the Dutch tradition of Christmas alive in our (Canadian) generation. Every year we received a parcel from our Dutch relatives which included chocolate letters, knopjes and hagelslag. My mother would retell the stories of Swarte Pete and Sinterklaas and we would sing a little song that was about asking Sinterklass to put something in our shoes, because we had been good. My father would distribute the candy. This tradition continues with our children, even though we have married several nationalities and I am 2000 miles away in another country. We faithfully receive our package from "Oma" while my brothers and sisters gather together every year. It made me feel very special and lucky as a child to have two Christmases and, as an adult, helps me to reinforce my roots and pass this on to my children. My Dutch heritage is very important to me and was always kept alive for me through the tradition of Sinterklass.
Every year, the children in our school are told a story about St. Nicholas and Black Pete. I present the story on the 5th of December. As I tell the story of the good bishop who loved and cared for children, I draw a picture of him with his robes, staff and mitre. I also draw his helper, Black Pete (now called Bad Pete) who leaves coal in the children's shoes rather than candy if the children have not been good or have not been kind and generous.
Our school emphasizes to the children the value of kindness. The story of St. Nicholas is a story of kindness, and we try to instill that attitude especially at this time of year when our children are barraged with commercialism and thoughts of only themselves and what they want. We feel that the children need to experience the joy of giving to others. Along with the story of St. Nicholas, we encourage the children to donate toys to a local charity. Every year our toy drive becomes more successful.
Of course, the possibility of getting a little treat in their shoes on the 6th is always a great incentive. St. Nicholas has never missed visiting our school!
My parents immigrated to Canada in the 1950's and brought many of the Dutch Traditions with them. My family settled in an area of Ontario where many other Dutch families lived. When I was a child, the Dutch Community got together and put on a Sinterklaas show every year in early December. We would meet in a large hall and see skits, comedians and a magic show. We children waited in anticipation for Saint Nick and Zwarte Piet to appear. We would have an opportunity to sit with Saint Nick and receive a gift of pepernoten and candy from Zwarte Piet. Many gifts were donated by area business and all the children would have a chance at receiving one. After all that fun, the Santas in stores seemed a pale comparison.
Now that I have children, I enjoy bringing them to see Saint Nick and Zwarte Piet at the Dutch Market on the Saturday following Sinterklaas day. When my son was very small, he was very scared of Zwarte Piet, especially when Saint Nick and Zwarte Piet knew his name! Now that they are older, they love to come and visit Saint Nick and aren't as afraid but they still can't figure out how Saint Nick remembers them year after year! I think Sinterklaas is a wonderful family tradition and I hope my children will continue to celebrate it!