the last two years, adam and i have been privileged enough to witness the annual "intocht" -- the day that sinterklaas arrives from spain, along with all of his helpers (zwartepieten) to give gifts and treats to all the good little boys and girls.
our first year, we went mostly out of curiosity because in the united states, we don't have this tradition of saint nicholas -- only of santa claus (who is one and the same in the USA -- but here they are two different people. there is sinterklaas/saint nicholas AND santa claus, who is better known as the kerstman, or "christmas man"). then our second year i went with a couple of girlfriends, mostly for the camp factor of it all, but also because i was preggers and was just excited to get out of the house and see all the little kids. now, our third year, we went because we thought gracie would have a good time. (and, honestly, cuz i think it's super cute and gezellig.)
many of the kids in holland will dress up like zwartepiet because he is their favorite: piet is the one who goes up and down the chimney to bring the goodies to all the children. so nearly every child dresses up in a piet costume, and practically every store out here sells several sizes and styles of zwartepiet attire. so of course, we had to get one for gracie. and NATURALLY it had to be in pink! adam and i also wore hats: i wore a piet hat similar to gracie's, and adam wore a miter (is that the word?) like what sinteklaas wears. it was funny to see the little kids on the street, the littlest ones in particular, because i think adam was confusing them with his hat. they recognized the hat, and it was on a grown man, so maybe it was sinterklaas? of course, he didn't have the beard. or the horse. or the zwartepieten surrounding him. but still, it was a man in a sint hat! could it be him? it was funny.
we also went with a couple of gracie's friends. for several months, the two of us had been going to a mom-and-baby yoga class on friday mornings. and there were two other babies there that gracie always loved to play with. a boy named tygo and a girl named robin, both about 3 months older than gracie. every friday morning gracie would watch in amazement as these "big kids" would roll and tumble around the room while she was stuck on my lap cuz she was too little to move yet. imagine how thrilled she was once she finally was able to keep up with them! yoga class ended a few months ago, but we've all kept in touch since then. and anyway, gracie, tygo, and robin are all good buds, so we moms thought it would be a nice outing if we all went to intocht together so our kids could play with each other again.
poor robin wasn't feeling well that day, but she was in a good (if somewhat lethargic) mood. tygo seemed absolutely enthralled by all the activity. and gracie, true to form, mostly took it all in and studied carefully the faces of the zwartepieten, and the reactions of the children as they skipped down the street and yelled for piet to give them cookies. she smiled a lot, but didn't really go crazy with it -- mostly she likes to study and watch things first, and react to them later.
just like previous years, there was a parade with a marching band, probably close to 200 pieten giving candy and pepernoten cookies to the kids, and somewhere in the middle was sinterklaas himself. what i love about hengelo's intocht is the down-home, rural, small-town feel to our parade: the traditional story says that sinterklaas arrives by boat from spain, but since hengelo isn't near a large body of water, sint comes by train here. ha! but also, i love the floats in the parade -- they are all homemade, and pulled by tractors, instead of fancy cars or horses or just powered by themselves. tractors! i love it! because of course we are in a farming region of the country, so pulling it by tractor makes the most sense.
after the parade, the whole group of us went back to our place for cookies and coffee, and to allow our children more time to play with each other. poor robin, who wasn't feeling very well, kinda just sat on the floor and watched gracie and tygo climb all over each other. eventually she just fell asleep in her dad's lap while the rest of us visited. tygo's mom (nicolet) and robin's mom (ingrid) know about as much english as i know dutch. this afternoon, we mostly spoke in english. (but a few weeks later, when gracie and i were at nicolet's house for a playdate, we spoke mostly in dutch. it's good for me to practice!)
it was such a sweet afternoon, and one that i will cherish for many years. i know gracie is too little to remember this, but i hope that by writing this down and taking all these pictures and videos she will have a better sense of where she came from, and the interesting cultural experiences we are trying to expose her to. i hope that when we move back to the states someday we will be able to continue this tradition of sinterklaas!