Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Sinterklaas!

In recent weeks, Albert Heijn (our grocery store) began decorating their cash registers with cardboard cut-outs that a reasonable but uniformed foreigner might easily mistake for Somali pirates. But they weren't Somali pirates - though that would be exciting - they were Zwarte Pieten ("Black Petes").

A pirate, a Somali pirate, and Black Pete

Black Pete(s) is(are) the sidekick(s) of Sinterklaas, which as a reasonable but uniformed American I might declare the Dutch version of Santa Claus. In reality the opposite is true. Since Sinterklaas is dropping off presents this evening, now is as good a time as any to compare the legends of Santa Claus and Sinterklaas.

Santa ClausSinterklaas
Brings children presents on the eve of December 25thBrings children presents on the eve of December 5th
Leaves the presents in children's stockingsLeaves the presents in children's [wooden] shoes
Has a white beard and dresses in a red suitHas a white beard and dresses in a red bishop's dress
Has a belly that shakes like a bowl fully of jellyNot so much
Arrives in America via a flying sled from the North PoleArrives in The Netherlands/Belgium via a boat from Spain
Is assisted by an army of elves Is assisted by an army of Zwarte Pieten
Gives naughty children a lump of coalTakes naughty children back with him to Spain
Who wins the Google Fight?

You might think that it sounds silly for a jolly old man bearing presents to come from Spain, but does it really make more sense for him to come from the North Pole?

Watch Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten arrive and stock the local Albert Heijn with delicious pepernoten.

(And finally, because I know you're wondering: Yes, the roles of the Zwarte Pieten are always played by white people in black face. If this bothers you, then you are probably not Dutch.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should check out a short story by David Sedaris called "Eight Angry Black Men" -- funniest if you can hear him read it aloud.