As a child, I can never remember there NOT being a Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) Day. Both of my parents were born in The Netherlands, as were all my relatives. It was their desire to carry on some of the traditions of the old country, giving all us children a taste of the Dutch ways.
It was so much fun, though a little scarey, too. Every December 5th, we prepared for the big event. The story goes that Sinterklaas came every year on a boat from Spain to Holland and gave nice gifts to good children, and those who had been bad, either got beaten with a switch or were left a piece of coal in their shoe. I always related it to "judgement day."
I remember always having new pajamas for the event, as this Sinterklaas always came in the evening. Along with him came a smaller black person called, Zwarte Peit. He carried the switches, just in case Sinterklaas needed to give someone a spanking. Zwarte Peit never said a word and we always thought that maybe he was a mute or something. Sinterklaas himself wore a long flowing red robe with a high red hat that had a cross on it. He looked like a priest. I remember my little brother being scared to death of him and starting to cry. The scariest part was THE BOOK!!!! You knew you couldn't lie about being bad or good, because Sinterklaas had a BIG book with our names in it, and he checked to see if we were telling the truth!
The tradition went on from there somewhat like our Santa Claus today -- telling this stately, serious man whether we had been good or not. If we had, Zwarte Peit took a gift out of a bag and handed it to us. Of course, we were always good!!!!
After this "ceremony," we always had goodies to eat, mostly ollie bollen, speculaas cookies (a hard spicey cookie), and other sweets along with hot chocolate.
When the "reading of the book" was over, we were told to put our shoe outside by the door. What a sight! 5 shoes lined up by the door, and Mom's and Dad's old wooden shoes. Shortly after Sinterklass left, we would go out to check our shoe. We would find and apple, or an orange, or some other little goodie in our shoe. Of course, we were supposed to be afraid of getting a piece of coal! We all believed that Sinterklaas had left them on his way out.
Those were wonderful times for our family. Memories that will never be forgotten. I'm so glad that my sister was able to salvage the 8 mm movies my mother had taken that last Sinterklaas Day before she died. More than 50 years have passed since that day, but it could have been just yesterday. . . .!
I think I'll make some ollie bollen tonight. And I think I'll find out once and for all if Sinterklaas is real. . . .
I'm going to put my wooden shoe out by the door!
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