Saturday, December 08, 2007

sinterklaas 2007

on december 5, adam and i were happy to celebrate our first "sinterklaas feestje." though we were here last year, we didn't know anything about this holiday, so we didn't do anything special that day. but this year we were invited to a dutch family's home to learn all about it, and how could we pass up an offer like that?!

as you already know from previous posts, sinterklaas has been in holland for a few weeks now. much like how santa claus comes to town before christmas, sinterklaas comes to the netherlands before his holiday so that little boys and girls can tell him what they want for sinterklaas day. and i assumed that everyone put out their shoes by the fireplace only on 5 december to get treats from sinterklaas and zwartepiet, but i learned that basically any time after sinterklaas arrives at intocht, until 5 december, you can leave your shoes out. i think that's pretty cool. unlike christmas eve, when you only get things in your stocking ONE DAY out of the whole year, with sinterklaas you can get treats a couple of times during that period between intocht and sinterklaas day. sweet!

my friend, jolanda (i met her when i worked at the call center, and she went to the tea house with me several weeks ago), invited adam and me to celebrate sinterklaas with her and her partner, michael. at first we were really hesitant to accept their invitation because we don't know anything about this holiday other than that you write poems about people and give them presents. but adam had never met jolanda or michael and didn't know what to write about in a poem, and i wasn't sure what sort of present would be appropriate for this holiday. in short, we were afraid we were going to screw it up. but j and m are so laid back that we decided to go for it anyway, because we knew they didn't expect us to get them anything and even if we "screwed it up" they wouldn't care because they're chill like that. so we went for it.

we took the train to enschede, and brought along a little bag of red wine and some homemade ginger snap cookies to give to them. michael was to meet us at the station and gave us a ride in his car the rest of the way to their house. but first, we had to get a picture taken with sinterklaas, who was just kicking it in the station with a couple of zwartepieten. he approached me and very gently asked me something about when i was due (in dutch). we both did our best to converse with him, and he finally invited us to come over and sit on his lap to get a picture taken with him. it was very nice. he really had the whole demeanor down, too. he was very gentle and sweet, and softspoken, and it was all so gezellig. then one of the zwartepieten gave us some chocolate (yay for zwartepiet!) and we left to go to michael's house.

sinterklaas is a holiday that is mostly for the children, but as people grow up they often celebrate just because it's fun. adults will often write little snarky poems to each other about a bad habit that the recipient has or does, something that they should probably stop doing if they expect any goodies from sinterklaas this year. (to me, that sounds SO dutch: to be all straightforward and blunt about something, but then to make a joke out of it at the same time. that's echt nederlands to me!) and if a gift is given, it is often wrapped as surpries (like the french word which our english word "surprise" is based on). to wrap a present as surpries would be, for example, to wrap a tiny little necklace in a series of larger boxes, or to wrap a gift in something really sticky and messy, like wet dog food or peanut butter and newspaper, inside of a pretty box. occasionally people will even wrap a gift to look like something cool, so that the package is wrapped up to look like a tree or a sailboat or a horse or something. what a neat tradition!

when we got to their house, dinner was just about ready to eat. we ate a traditional dish called boerenkool, which means literally "farmers' cabbage". (boeren = farmers, kool = cabbage.) it was like a hotdish with a base of mashed potatoes. then you add finely chopped green kale. and then you can basically add anything else you want to it. as long as it's mashed potatoes and kale mixed together, it's boerenkool. jolanda and michael added sauteed mushrooms and bacon to it as well, and we ate a side of really lekker sausage (it was like kielbasa, but that's not what they called it) with mustard. and dutch beer for the boys, i think they both had a grolsch, which is the local beer here.

after dinner we sat in the living room and had another drink, and jolanda and michael gave us a couple of presents and gave us some poems that jolanda had written about us. how sweet! they were rhyming and everything, and all in english! i was impressed. (of course, both of them speak perfect english, but to be able to rhyme in a foreign language is still really impressive i think.) we got lots of treats: chocolate letters, marzipan, and even some highly disturbing packs of candy cigarettes. i wasn't sure what to say: "thank you," or "what the hell?" when we got the cigarettes. it was funny. they both laughed at us. neither j or m smoke, they're both very healthy people, and adam and i certainly don't smoke either, so we all just laughed about how weird it was that kids were given this stuff at sinterklaas time. and unlike the candy cigarettes in the states which are just these chalky, mint-flavored sticks, these candy cigarettes look really real: they are chocolate (or chocolate-based, anyway), with paper wrapped around them. so it really looks like there is tobacco in there, because of the contrasting brown and white. gross! that's what the boys are holding in this picture, they're not really smoking... i think it's really disturbing, but also funny. mostly disturbing, though.

we sat around for a nice long while after dinner eating the traditional treats of speculaas (like gingerbread, but not as cakey), something i can't remember the name of that was flavored with anise, and this tasty pastry-bread filled with amandelstof which is like this almond paste, but not marzipan. you heat this bread up in the oven, and sprinkle some powdered sugar on it, and cut off little pieces. it's really tasty, but extremely sweet. oh, and you're also supposed to eat kruidnoten, which are like little peppery ginger snaps, but smaller and lighter, but we were all so sugared out at that point that we decided to pass on that option.

we were given a ride back to the station and were surprised at how quickly we fell asleep given the amount of sugar we had just consumed. it was so great to learn about this traditional dutch holiday! we hope to be able to celebrate this again in the future, and to take these traditions to the US when we move back. how fun would that be?! thank you, michael and jolanda!

1 comment:

Valerie said...

I guess the chocolate cigarette thing isn't really something fun anymore. it used to be, back in the day when smoking was healthy, but you had to be 'a little older' to start. when your parents would give you your first smoke (and really, that's not that long ago, it was only in '64 that they started publishing that smoking could possibly be unhealthy and that's when the manufacturers started making filter cigarettes and it wasn't until '81 that they made it into an official warning on all packages that smoking tobacco could cause lungcancer (but nothing else) only a couple years ago they started posting all other things that can happen to you, really really big, on packs of cigarettes.

I guess giving kids chocolate cigarettes just never stopped, it's something that always happened and even though smoking isn't even remotely as normal as back in the 70's and before, they still give out those things.

Funny/disturbing little fact. Did you know that they often put honey and chocolate into real tobacco to make it taste better so people get addicted faster???

Glad you had a good sinterklaas! Oh and the sausage is called rookworst (smoked sausage)