‘Sinterklaas is jarig, zet je schoen maar klaar….’ (It’s St Nicolas’ birthday! Put your shoe ready…). You could hear this song sung everywhere, especially around dinnertime, if you’d had a bug that would allow you to eavesdrop on Dutch families with young children.
But the song is wrong. The fifth of December is not the saint’s birthday. Today is the eve of the saint’sday. When the bishop died in Myra (Lycia now in Turkey) on 6th December 342. He was born somewhere in Lycia in 240, so that would make him 1773 years old in 2013. Want to know more about him? Read this.
Old Sinterklaas (as the Dutch know him) is alive and kicking and you’ll see him and his servants all over the Netherlands. His omnipresence is a great mystery that we should not try to investigate with scientific eyes.
Sinterklaas was, is and will always be a feast for young children. Some adults will celebrate the feast after the kids have gone to bed. After a few glasses of wine they’ll try to humiliate each other by means of nasty rhyming couplets in crippled attempts at poetry. All in good spirits of course!
When I was a kid of five or six, the coming of Sinterklaas was my nightmare. For weeks rumour had it that naughty kids would be sent to Spain where the Saint resides these days. The question I asked myself in bed: had I been very very very naughty? No idea. Adults could not help me answer it.
It was difficult to decide for myself if I had crossed the threshold. And could not be sure if Sinterklaas had been informed about my misdemeanours. So when the moment arrived that the Sint visited our house, the tension was high. Was I in his big red book on the pages with the naughty kids or not? Traumatic.
No, apparently my behaviour had been okay. So I was allowed to stay in The Hague with my parents and open the presents with brother Eric, my sister Heleen and my cousin Petra.
The other day I found my first VERLANGLIJST (wish list) when I was still called Ruudje. My younger self of six made this drawing and listed the things I wanted. I had just learned to write in block letters, but had not learned the capitals yet. This is what my wish list says:
dag sint! dag piet!
(hi saint! hi pete! (hierarchically correct!)
ik zet mijn laars klaar
(I put my boot (sic! Clever because larger than a shoe) ready)
ik doe er een peen in.
(I put a carrot (for the horse) in it.)
(wilt u er ook wat in doen?
(would you please put something in it too?)
een fiets. en een blokken.
(a bicycle. and a blocks (sic! I must have forgotten ‘doos’ box).
ik zal heel lief zijn.
(I shall be very sweet.)