Happy Belated Sinterklaas! December 5

Good Little Dutch Girls & Boys
found presents in their wooden shoes Friday night

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

click image for source

A bit of explanation

From the analysis of the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas on the [mostly Dutch-language] blog of Samhildanach, a Dutch religious studies scholar says:

click image for source (in Dutch)

“Sinterklaas is the festival of St. Nicholas of Myra . . . [which is surrounded by] a lot of mythology . . . although little of that is commonly known.

This saint is portrayed as a venerable man in a red and gold bishop’s gown . . . Principally, the festival is meant for young children to around the age of eight.

The young . . . believe that Sinterklaas lives in Spain [and] visits the Netherlands every year in a steam ship, accompanied by his helpers, the dark-skinned Zwarte Pieten ‘Black Petes’, dressed in frivolous colours, to offer presents to all [well-behaved] children.

Those [who] have been naughty risk [being] caned by Zwarte Piet, or in extreme cases, [being] forced in the sack and taken back to Spain.”

The article goes on to explain that the period of Sinterklaas begins at some point in November every year – a national, televised event when St. Nicholas of Myra arrives at the dock, disembarking with his white horse and his attendant(s).

“From this moment on, the children [may] put down their shoes in front of the hearth. [. . .] The morning after, a small present will be in their shoes.

The festival is mainly celebrated in the Netherlands, but there are some local variations to be found in Belgium and Germany, encompassing differentiated local traditions.”

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TWO visits from “Santa”

December 5th is sometimes referred to as “Santa Claus Day” in the United States, but it refers to a completely different Santa from the one who visits on the Eve before December 25th!

Lucky Dutch children get a visit from the St. Nicholas better known in English speaking countries in addition to the Bishop of Myra.

Known as the protector of children and revered for his compassion and generosity, the Dutch St. Nicholas developed a reputation of secret gift-giving to children who were particularly kind and generous themselves.  The tradition evolved from there and remains strong today.

Recent controversy over Black Peter

Although many Dutch historians disagree with the controversy, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is always portrayed with black greasepaint covering his skin, which has inspired accusations of racism.

Many of those who defend the tradition argue that the black face is intended to represent soot, not race.

Since St. Nicholas and his attendant come down the chimney, “Black Peter” always slides down first – a sign of respect for the Bishop, to help him keep his robes pristine by cleaning the flue on the way down.

As a result, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is always portrayed with a layer of black soot on his skin – represented today by the black make-up that Americans in particular interpret as “black-face.”

Earlier lithographs depicting Black Peter in a turban have generated the argument that the attendant was of Nubian heritage, and that the black make-up is intended to represent race with no disrespect attached.

Sinterklaas & Associates (A drawing from a picture book by Rie Cramer) – click image for source


How do YOU celebrate the December holidays?

I prefer to exchange gifts on Twelfth Night, when the Three Wise Men supposedly reached the Creche with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (primarily because it gives me a lot more time to get it together!)

  • Jewish children usually get small gifts throughout the Hanukkah season, one each day.
  • Families who celebrate Christmas have varying traditions.  Some open gifts first-thing Christmas morning, while others wait until after they attend a religious Christmas service.
  • Still others prefer to sleep in on the 25th, so they open THEIR presents on Christmas Eve.
  • THEN there are those who celebrate Kwanza, Festivus, Solstice – and many other December traditions, some of which do not involve the giving of gifts at all and some which reinterpret the gift-giving occasion.

How do YOU give and receive gifts at your house? 

Does anybody give gifts for all Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas Day until Twelfth Night, January 6th)?  Let me know in the comments below.

If you’ve written about it on your blog or website, leave us a link (only one per comment or you’ll be auto-spammed).  Let’s SHARE our traditions in the spirit of good will toward ALL.

AS ALWAYS, comments are encouraged and eagerly awaited – EVEN from Grinches – as long as you don’t make individual people wrong, and do your best to avoid the dreaded “should” word, I will approve all comers (link-spammers shot on sight, however).

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

5 Responses to Happy Belated Sinterklaas! December 5

  1. Pingback: ADD and Christmas too! | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Great post Madelyn. I think the Spaniards invaded Holland in the 15th century. Also, St. Nicholas’ Feast day is on the Catholic and Orthodox calendars in December as well.


  3. janetkwest says:

    I love reading the other traditions. Thanks.


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