5 December: “Did he fill my shoe? Will he visit us again this year?” These little minds are thinking about the old man who visits the lowlands every year around mid November. Your first years, parents remind you about him whenever you are naughty. You understand their concern though. Everyone knows the man’s side-kick ‘Piet’, whisks away bad kids to far, far Spain. And so you worry for a whole month about that time you turned your sisters’ Barbie into a bold Rambo.
Saint Nicolaas (a.k.a. Sinterklaas) comes to the Netherlands to celebrate his birthday. He is a strange man. Instead of receiving presents, he hands them out! Moreover, nobody ever mentions the man’s age and one day he can look vaguely familiar, to look very different the next. But who cares, you get presents from him when you are good! And Grandpa says; “There are Assistant-Sinterklazen to help him”.
Parents assure you that Sinterklaas and his ‘Pieten’ fit through the chimney as well as the radiator. Thus you sing songs in front of that big one in the living room. The next morning you find your shoe full of goodies.
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“He knows you ate your vegetables, honey!”
Sinterklaas is very important. He gets an official welcome with a parade and for weeks you will see the man on TV, in the mall or at school, always accompanied by crazy ‘Pieten’. And might things strike as odd to you, adults have an explanation.
“Why are the ‘Pieten’ alone today dad?”
”Sinterklaas can’t be everywhere”.
“No, the horse only climbs the roofs at night”.
“Just put your gift list in your shoe, he will find it”.
And every year you are so in awe over this man that from mid November you become the sweetest kid in the hood. Until that dreadful morning.
“Why are you saying this?!” you cry “What about those presents?”
“We buy them, honey”.
“No! The chocolate? The carrot!”
“Dad got up early, filled your shoe and ate the carrot”
You whisper in despair; “Sinterklaas, in the parade, on the horse?”
It’s a moment kids never forget. When they realize everybody lied; parents, the teacher, your grandfather, the shopkeeper, the mayor of Amsterdam! “What’s next? Kids in Africa do not care for Brussels sprouts?” You feel such an idiot, thinking of that bloody radiator! You can not yet grasp the value of a national scam of this caliber. To feel less of a fool, you play along next year. When older you realize what Sinterklaas really meant; it is nice to be generous and it is an early warning to watch out for other people who try to sell (inter)national myths to you …