Tuesday, November 20, 2007

intocht 2007

on saturday, hengelo welcomed sinterklaas and zwartepiet with its annual "intocht." intocht is the day that sinterklaas and zwartepiet (or "black peter") arrive from spain, bringing gifts for all the good boys and girls of holland. if you've been naughty this past year, though, then zwartepiet might put you in his bag and take you back to madrid with him. though that might sound appealing to a grown-up living in such a dark and cold climate right now, i can assure you that it's downright terrifying for a child to be threatened with something like that. nonetheless, the children love zwartepiet because he's the one that gives them candy and cookies and he's sinterklaas' helper, so he's the one who dishes out the toys and goodies.

i remember last year's intocht and how much fun it was, with the marching band and the floats, but how offensive i found all the black peters to be, because they reminded me of the offensive black-face face paint that people would put on before the civil rights movement in america, to make fun of african americans. coming from the USA, it seemed downright shocking to me to see all these children in black face paint. but my friend, valerie (you all know her by now), left a really informative comment on last year's blog entry about intocht, and i'm pasting it here so you know a little bit more about the history of zwartepiet, and how he's just dirty from being a chimney sweep, and how it doesn't have anything to do with his race or ethnicity. here are her comments:

The way I learned the Sinterklaas en Zwarte Piet story, and why Piet is black, is just a little different. Not 'just a chimney sweep', definately not a moor...Sinterklaas has many helpers, who are all much younger then him. Since he's old, he can't go through the chimney himself anymore. Also, there's much too many houses and children to visit all by himself. He just couldn't do it alone. Fortunately he has his faithful helpers, who are all named Piet...So Sinterklaas rides his horse on top of the houses, the Pieten walk or bike or climb around him. He points out what presents should go down which chimney, and the Pieten actually climb down the chimney for him and back up (and they bring the carrots for the horse up with them again too). The tradition of Sinterklaas goes so far back that there were still fireplaces in all houses to keep people home. Obviously when Piet would climb down the chimney, he'd get soot all over him. His clothes, he could change, but eventually he couldn't get his skin clean anymore, he turned black. (You know that in the days Sinterklaas first started people who'd work in coal mines, or actual chimney sweepers often literally ot black as well, so that was a believable story to the children)And that's how Piet got to be black, he was just being helpful, helping Sinterkaas and making sure all the kids would be attended to. And Piet ha a nice life. He gets to live in a wonderful palace in Spain, go on a boat, ride bikes, play with the horse, help with presents and pull all sorts of pranks, plus, everyone loves him. They love him so much, they want to be him...So, yeah, it's partially the chimney sweep thing, but not in a negative way, but in a historically logical way.
thanks for the clarification, valerie!

anyway, this year i celebrated intocht with a few friends, which was especially nice because adam was in belfast for a conference. kelly (with the pink scarf), valerie (with the plaid hat), and sabrina (with the red coat) all met me at my place beforehand and we walked over to the station together. (i know sabrina and kelly from my new awesome girls-only book club, which is meeting at my house next time! yay!)

valerie was the only native-dutch person in our little group, so she of course knew all the sinterklaas songs and all the traditions. she said that she could tell that this intocht was happening in twente, and not in amsterdam (where she lives) because instead of fancy cars in a parade, we had tractors and forklifts and stuff. and instead of entering on a boat (which is how the original story goes, and how they do it in amsterdam because it's on the water), sinterklaas enters by train out here. we don't have many canals, and though there is a small harbor in nearby enschede, we don't have anything like that here in hengelo... so, train it is.

after we watched sinterklaas wave to the boys and girls, and after the marching bands and floats passed by, we walked back to my house and lit a fire in the fireplace and ate tons and tons and tons of cookies and candies and drank tea. i was so tired from all the crowds and standing, that i just plopped my fat butt down and made everyone get their drinks themselves. i felt bad about it, but people understood, and the party seemed to go just fine despite my tired feet. adam's colleague, petra, and her daughter, eva, came to join us too, and we all hung out together for a while before those two left again to see the parade wrap up at the stadhuis (city hall) which was right around the corner. i wish i knew more dutch so i could talk to eva, who is just learning basic english right now in school. she seems like such a cool person whenever i see her. i wish i could talk to her more!

later on, sabrina and kelly left too, and valerie and i were left here to watch the fire die down. since she was planning on spending the night, we just hung out a bit more as she knitted a scarf and i worked some more on my baby blanket that i'm crocheting, and it was all very girly and fun. then we went out to eat at a chinese buffet around the corner and came back and watched the princess bride, which i was surprised to learn she had never seen before! (best. movie. EVER.) it was really lovely to spend so much time with her, especially because adam was gone to ireland again and this house gets awful lonely when he's away. we had a great time. she stayed all the way until sunday evening, which was great, and caught her train just a few minutes after adam got off his train, so we were all able to meet up at the station together before i swapped one friend for another :-) . it was really fun!

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