Yesterday was this time of the year when the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas. Obviously, de Goedheiligman has not made his way to Lebanon because I never remember celebrating the arrival of any Sint as a child myself. There was only Christmas for us, with the American Santa Claus. However, ever since I have been around Dutch people, I noticed how excited both adults and children get whenever we talk about the Sinterklaas event. I’d rather avoid getting close to the “Zwarte Pieten” debate, but in all cases, the color of the pieten (the Sint’s helpers) doesn’t seem to matter. They could be red, pink or green and still, people, at least the ones I met, would enjoy celebrations, gifts and sweets just about the same.
We decided to celebrate the weekend before the actual arrival day of the Sint, with a bunch of friends. For my fellow Lebanese who never heard of him, Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas is an old tradition in The Netherlands. The man was a bishop in the 4th century in the town of Myra in Turkey. It is known that he was very generous and helpful particularly towards the poor and needy. Now, children put their shoes in front of the fire in the hope that Sinterklaas will fill them with a small present or a chocolate goody. I am still not sure though why his last stop before getting here is in Spain. I asked my Dutch language teacher about it but he did not know either. So if any of you know the reason, feel free to write it down in the comments’ section.
Going back to our preparations for the celebration evening, we invited close friends and agreed to exchange small gifts and poems. The main dish for dinner was hutspot, an authentic Dutch winter meal made of potatoes, carrots, onions, sausage and gravy- all prepared by my husband while wearing an inappropriate apron. I managed miraculously to bring in a salad as an entrée if only to create a balance between all the carbs and sweets. Wine glasses were clinking, sinterklaasliedjes were playing in the background with Dutch friends singing along. My Lebanese friend and I sticked to dancing. The ambiance was warm, friendly and joyful. Heel Gezellig!
It was time for us to read the poems and open the presents – which we did not hide inside a homemade “surprise”. Some wrote in English, others in Dutch or in both. More wine, more pepernoten, meringues, cupcakes, chocolate, nuts (our personal touch) and the list goes on. We had already started a whatsapp group a couple of weeks earlier for updates on the event (yes that’s how serious it is here). Those who were less experienced were stressing a bit, about how to put together the traditional Sinterklaas poem: a rhyming text that pokes fun at your target while letting a little bit of warm feelings show through.
With some effort (and support from Google and other websites), I put one together in English – rhyming in Dutch is of yet a bridge too far. Maybe next year :-). It goes a little something like this:
I couldn’t though help but notice, the love he has for music.
He had it all: English, French and Arabic”.
“Hmm”, uttered the Sint. “I think I know”.
He reached out for a small thick book hanging on a hook,
It was full of color from cover to cover, meant for Elias to discover.
Despite the cold, the wind, the storm and the rain,
Which Sinterklaas does not experience in Spain.
On December the second, he traveled with Piet,
To visit Elias in The Hague and make his mission complete.
“Enjoy the book”, said the Sint on his way out.
“You have been a great friend this year, about that there is no doubt”.
My Sint got me warm stuff to wear in winter while riding my bicycle, along with a bit of cynical poetry – this Sint having spent time in the Middle East himself.
Ma’ Salama Sinterklaas
Sint dacht er heel lang over na
En begon dit gedicht toen toch maar met: Marhaba Mona
Eigenlijk had de Sint een persconferentie willen inlassen
Om te zeggen dat hij het kinderfeest nog verder wil aanpassen
Vanaf nu, zei Sint, is mijn naam: Abu Klaas
En wie daar problemen mee heeft: jammer maar helaas
Mijn pieten heten voortaan Mukhabarat
En ook de kinderliedjes ben ik een beetje zat
Voortaan zingen we: Zie ginds komt de shishaboot uit Libanon weer aan
Hij brengt ons Abu Klaas ik zie hem al staan
Ja, Abu Klaas wil het feestje over een hele ander boeg gooien
En voortaan alleen nog maar met falafel strooien
Ach de Sint is die pietendiscussie helemaal moe
Vanaf volgend jaar is de regel: Wie zoet is krijgt hummus en wie stout is…
moet naar Israël toe.