First let me explain you a little bit about Sinterklaas (info from The Holland Ring, adapted by me):
The Feast of Sinterklaas is an annual event which has been uniquely Dutch and Flemish for centuries. It is is celebrated nationwide on the 5th of December by young and old, christian and non-christian, and without any religious overtones.
Sinterklaas is a kind of benevolent old man, whose feast day is observed by exchanging gifts and making good-natured fun of each other. It so happens that the legend of St. Nicholas is based on historical fact. He did actually exist. He lived from 271 A.D. to December 6th, 342 or 343. His 4th century tomb in the town of Myra, near the city of Anatolia in present-day Turkey, has even been dug up by archaeologists.
This is his story: Born of a wealthy family, Nicholas was brought up as a devout Christian. When his parents died of an epidemic, he distributed his wealth among the poor and became a priest.Later he became Archbishop of Myra, and it is from here that the fame of his good deeds began to spread across the Mediterranean.
All Dutch children know that Sinterklaas (the name is a corruption of Sint Nikolaas) lives in Spain. Exactly why he does remains a mystery, but that is what all the old songs and nursery rhymes say. Whatever the case may be, in Spain he spends most of the year recording the behaviour of all children in a big red book, while his helper Black Peter (Zwarte Piet) stocks up on presents for next December 5th.
In the first weeks of November, Sinterklaas gets on his white horse, Peter ("Piet") swings a huge sack full of gifts over his shoulder, and the three of them board a steamship headed for the Netherlands. Around mid-November they arrive in a harbour town - a different one every year - where they are formally greeted by the Mayor and a delegation of citizens. Their parade through town is watched live on television by the whole country and marks the beginning of the "Sinterklaas season".
The old bishop and his helpmate are suddenly everywhere at once. At night they ride across Holland's' rooftops and Sinterklaas listens through the chimneys to check on the children's behaviour. Piet jumps down the chimney flues and makes sure that the carrot or hay the children have left for the horse in their shoes by the fireplace is exchanged for a small gift or some candy. During the day, Sinterklaas and Piet are even busier, visiting schools, hospitals, department stores, restaurants, offices and many private homes. Piet rings doorbells, scatters sweets through the slightly opened doors and leaves basketfuls of presents by the front door.
How do they manage to be all over the Netherlands at once? This is thanks to the so-called "hulp-Sinterklazen", or Sinterklaas helpers, who dress up like the bishop and Black Peter and help them perform their duties. Children who become wise to these simultaneous "Sint-sightings" are told that since Sinterklaas cannot indeed be in two places at once, he gets a little help from his uncanonized friends.
The Dutch are busy too - shopping for, and more importantly, making presents. Tradition demands that all packages be camouflaged in some imaginative way, and that every gift be accompanied by a fitting poem.
This is the essence of Sinterklaas: lots of fun on a day when people are not only allowed, but expected, to make fun of each other in a friendly way. Children, parents, teachers, employers and employees, friends and co-workers tease each other and make fun of each others' habits and mannerisms. Another part of the fun is how presents are hidden or disguised. Recipients often have to go on a treasure hunt all over the house, aided by hints, to look for them. They must be prepared to dig their gifts out of the potato bin, to find them in a jello pudding, in a glove filled with wet sand, in some crazy dummy or doll. Working hard for your presents and working even harder to think up other peoples' presents and get them ready is what the fun is all about.
The original poem accompanying each present is another old custom and a particularly challenging one. Here the author has a field day with his subject (the recipient of the gift). Foibles, love interests, embarrassing incidents, funny habits and well-kept secrets are all fair game. The recipient, who is the butt of the joke, has to open his/her package in public and read the poem aloud amid general hilarity. The real giver is supposed to remain anonymous because all presents technically come from Sinterklaas, and recipients say out loud "Thank you, Sinterklaas!", even if they no longer believe in him.
On the day of the 5th, most places of business close a bit earlier than normal. The Dutch head home to a table laden with the same traditional sweets and baked goods eaten for St. Nicholas as shown in the 17th-century paintings of the Old Masters. The emphasis is on originality and personal effort rather than the commercial value of the gift, which is one reason why Sinterklaas is such a delightful event for young and old alike.
It were the Dutch settlers who brought St. Nicholas over to New Amsterdam - USA. So it could be a possiblity that America actually owes the cheery saint of Christmas to Holland :) .
So for my first giveaway I thought Sinterklaas would be a nice theme!! I will send the winner a package containing some typical treats for Sinterklaas:
- a chocolate letter by the Dutch brand Droste in a letter of their choice;
- a bag of pepernoten or kruidnoten by the Dutch brand Bolletje. Pepernoten are typically Dutch spicy dough cookies. They have a cinnamony, spicy taste, and it's a tradition to throw them around the room, so your kids can collect them! Or you obviously can eat them straight out of the bag.
- and whatever else I will find.....
By now you are probably woundering what you have to do to become the lucky winner?? Leave me a comment on what you think of the Dutch feast of Sinterklaas and ofcourse let me know what letter you would like to receive if you won!
The deadline of this giveaway is 10 pm on the 20th of November (European Time), so be sure to post your comment before that time!!