Skip to content

Better be good or you’ll be shipped off to Spain!

December 5, 2008

I believe it was mid-October when some interesting items started popping up in the stores around Belgium. Giant boxes of Speculaas (the wonderful gingerbread-like cookie that just loves being dipped in my coffee) were adorned with a funny white-haired guy in some sort of religious bishop-like hat, carrying a staff and riding a horse or a boat. Or both. Often, this saintly fellow was flanked by shorter, jester-like African guys dressed in bright colors.

Kinda like these:

(Zwarte Piet & Sinterklaas)

(Sinterklaas, Speculaas and the most traditional Sinterklaas item of all, a chocolate GSM (cell phone))

A quick check with my coworkers (and Wikipedia) revealed that the images adorning my beloved Speculoos as well as the decorations that were starting to fill the local patisseries and shop windows were not related to Christmas or Santa Claus but to Sinterklaas. And the not even remotely PC images of black jesters? Those are Sinterklaas’ helpers – “Zwarte Piets” or “Black Peters.”  If you are scratching your head, thinking ‘how is this possible? Where is the NAACP?’ well, here’s the background (copied from Wikipedia because I’m lazy AND I want to leave on time to go to the Christmas Market tonight!):

Arrival of Sinterklaas:

Sinterklaas traditionally arrives each year in November (usually on Saturday) by steamboat from Spain  (even though the bishop is originally from Turkey. It is believed that the gifts associated with the holy man such as oranges and clementines led to the misconception that he must have been from Spain. That story has stuck ever since), and is then paraded through the streets, welcomed by cheering and singing children[3]. Invariably, this event is broadcast live on national television in the Netherlands and Belgium. His Zwarte Piet assistants throw candy and small, round ginger bread-like cookies, kruidnoten or pepernoten, into the crowd. The children welcome him by singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. Sinterklaas also visits schools, hospitals and shopping centres. After this arrival all towns with a dock have their own intocht van Sinterklaas (arrival of Sinterklaas). Local arrivals usually takes place on Sunday, the day after he arrives in the Netherlands or Belgium. In places a boat cannot reach, Sinterklaas arrives by train, bus, horse or even carriage.

(arriving by boat)

(on horse)

As for those Zwarte Pieten:

‘Zwarte Piet’, Sinterklaas’ helping hand Black Pete has a story found in the bishops past. Three small Moorish boys were to be sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. Because the bishop intervened they were saved. The boys stayed with Sinterklaas to help him as show of gratitude. The Black Petes we know for Sinterklaas night are tumbling and jumping all over the roofs to deliver the presents. Their black skin color may refer either to the job of chimneysweep, which is corroborated by the clothes, that remind of an Italian chimneysweep’s costume and by the tradition of climbing roofs and bringing the packages through the chimney, or to the Moorish background of Sinterklaas’s helpers.

When you see Sinterklaas and his Black Petes they will also carry the bag (that either holds candy for nice children or the ‘roe’, a bunch of willow branches used to spank naughty children in the old days-a chimneysweep’s broom). They toss the candy around for all. This stems from Sint Nicolaas’ story of saving three young girls from prostitution by tossing golden coins through their window at night till the debt their father had made were paid.

Zwarte Pieten

(If you’d like to spice up your St. Nick’s party, you can hire these Zwarte Pieten here.)

De Zwarte Pieten op huisbezoek bij Lieke en Patrick

(They’ll even come to your home…)


The Bit about the Shoe:

Traditionally, in the weeks between his arrival and the 5th of December, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the chimney of the coal fired stove or fireplace, with a carrot or some hay in it “for Sinterklaas’s horse”, sing a Sinterklaas song, and will find some candy or a small present in their shoes the next day, supposedly thrown down the chimney by a ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete) or Sinterklaas himself. However, with the advent of central heating children put their shoes near the boiler or even just next to the front door.

Typical Sinterklaas candy is the chocolate letter, the first letter of the child’s name made out of chocolate, kruidnoten(a type of shortcrust biscuit), chocolate coins, a figurine of Sinterklaas made out of chocolate and wrapped in painted aluminium foil, and coloured marzipan shaped into fruit, an animal or some other object.

Children are told that Black Pete enters the house through the chimney, which also explains his black face and hands, and would leave a bundle of sticks (roe) or a small bag with salt in the shoe instead of candy when the child had been bad.

Children are also told that in the worst case they would be put in the gunny sack in which Black Pete carries the presents, and be taken back to Spain, where Sinterklaas is said to spend the rest of the year.

SOOooo. TO recap: St. Nick arrives on a boat from Spain in November. Rides a horse around town with his trusy Zwarte Piets (Don’t you think it seems less offensive when its in Dutch? Or is it not offensive at all? I don’t know.). Puts candy  in your shoes if you are good, salt if you are bad. If you are REALLY naughty, you get stuck in his bag and taken back to Spain. (Which is somehow frightening. Not sure how though considering the weather in Spain is infinitely better than in Belgium & The Netherlands. I think I’d be extra bad for the free vacation in the sun.)

Oh, and just so you know… Belgium kids ALSO celebrate Christmas. Which means they get TWO holidays to celebrate. When I grow up I want to be a gradeschooler in Belgium.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2012 5:03 pm

    Have you considered including a few social bookmarking links to these blogs. At the very least for bebo.

  2. June 20, 2012 10:28 pm

    Im having a tiny problem. I cant get my reader to pick up your rss feed, Im using bing reader by the way.

  3. June 21, 2012 3:47 am

    I have got one idea for your website. It looks like there are a couple of cascading stylesheet troubles when launching a number of web pages inside google chrome and opera. It is functioning alright in internet explorer. Probably you can double check that.

  4. June 21, 2012 9:44 am

    I experimented with viewing your site on my ipod touch and the format does not seem to be correct. Might want to check it out on WAP as well as it seems most cell phone layouts are not really working with your website.

  5. account permalink
    June 23, 2012 5:40 pm

    Wanted to drop a remark and let you know your Rss feed is not working today. I tried adding it to my Yahoo reader account and got absolutely nothing.

  6. June 23, 2012 9:15 pm

    I think one of your ads triggered my internet browser to resize, you might well want to set that on your blacklist.

  7. June 23, 2012 9:25 pm

    Could you message me with any hints on how you made this blog site look this cool , Id be appreciative.

  8. June 25, 2012 3:30 am

    Jesus Christ theres a lot of spammy feedback on this website. Have you actually thought about trying to get rid of them or installing a tool?

  9. June 25, 2012 8:52 pm

    Have you given any thought at all with converting your current site in to French? I know a several of translaters here that would certainly help you do it for free if you wanna make contact with me personally.

  10. June 26, 2012 9:35 am

    I appreciate your wp design, where did you get a hold of it?

  11. June 26, 2012 8:34 pm

    I like that website layout ! How did you make it. Its so cool.

  12. June 28, 2012 7:24 pm

    When I originally left a comment I clicked the Notify me when new comments are added checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four email messages with the exact same comment.

  13. June 28, 2012 9:59 pm

    I was wanting to know if you ever thought of adjusting the design of your site? It is well written; I love what youve got to state. But maybe you could create a a bit more in the way of written content so people could connect to it better. You have got an awful lot of wording for only having one or two images. Maybe you can space it out better?

  14. buy fridge freezer permalink
    June 29, 2012 11:32 pm

    This is a excellent site, could you be interested in working on an interview concerning just how you designed it? If so e-mail me and my friends!

  15. June 30, 2012 2:38 pm

    Just to let you know your site looks a little bit different on Safari on my notebook with Linux .

  16. July 1, 2012 1:20 am

    Im having a teeny problem. I cant get my reader to pick up your feed, Im using msn reader by the way.

  17. July 1, 2012 9:29 pm

    I love that site layout . How was it made. It is really cool.

  18. July 3, 2012 10:31 pm

    Jesus Christ there is plenty of spammy comments on this website. Have you ever before believed about attempting to eliminate them or putting in a tool?

  19. July 5, 2012 5:40 pm

    I had been curious about if you ever thought of modifying the page layout of your web site? It is well written; I love what you have got to say. But maybe you could add a little more in the way of content so people can connect to it better. Youve got an awful lot of wording for only having one or two photos. Maybe you can space it out better?

  20. July 5, 2012 10:24 pm

    Dude! This site is sick. How did you make it look this good ?

  21. July 6, 2012 6:52 am

    Have you thought about adding some relevant links to your article? I think it will really enhance everyones understanding.

  22. July 7, 2012 7:56 am

    Nearly all of the opinions on this website dont make sense.

  23. July 7, 2012 9:21 pm

    extremely valuable material, overall I picture this is worthy of a book mark, thanks a lot

  24. July 8, 2012 9:03 pm

    Have you given any kind of consideration at all with converting your web site into Chinese? I know a small number of translaters right here which would help you do it for no cost if you wanna get in touch with me personally.

  25. July 9, 2012 9:42 am

    This blog site has got a lot of extremely helpful info on it. Cheers for informing me!

  26. July 9, 2012 2:53 pm

    I have got 1 suggestion for your site. It looks like right now there are a few cascading stylesheet troubles when opening a number of webpages inside google chrome and safari. It is operating alright in internet explorer. Probably you can double check that.

  27. July 9, 2012 11:12 pm

    Oh man. This website is amazing. How did you make it look this good .

  28. July 10, 2012 3:36 am

    Im having a teeny problem. I cant get my reader to pick-up your rss feed, Im using google reader by the way.

  29. July 10, 2012 2:28 pm

    This blog is very good! How was it made .

  30. July 11, 2012 11:48 pm

    Im getting a little issue. I cant get my reader to pick up your rss feed, Im using aol reader by the way.

  31. July 11, 2012 11:52 pm

    The look for the weblog is a tad off in Epiphany. Nevertheless I like your website. I might need to install a normal browser just to enjoy it.

  32. July 13, 2012 3:39 am

    Have you considered including several social bookmarking links to these blogs. At the very least for bebo.

  33. July 13, 2012 3:50 am

    If you dont mind, where do you host your webpage? I am shopping for a good web host and your blog appears to be quick and up just about all the time

  34. July 13, 2012 10:30 pm

    You ought to really moderate the responses here

  35. July 14, 2012 1:34 am

    I Am Going To have to return again whenever my course load lets up – however I am getting your Rss feed so i can go through your web blog offline. Thanks.

  36. July 15, 2012 9:25 pm

    Almost all of the responses on this particular weblog dont make sense.

  37. July 16, 2012 3:32 pm

    This website has got some very helpful stuff on it. Thanks for informing me!

  38. July 16, 2012 10:22 pm

    Im having a little problem. I cant get my reader to pickup your feed, Im using google reader by the way.

  39. September 8, 2013 3:48 pm

    Hallo, weet jij waar en wanneer de landelijke intocht sinterklaas 2013 is?

  40. March 8, 2014 10:17 am

    Heh! Great post. I enjoy discovering something new each time I visit your site. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: