Santa Claus or Sinterklaas?5 December 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
The American Santa Claus lives on the North Pole and it is often assumed that the British Father Christmas lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland. His Finnish name is Joulupukki. There is also a Mrs Claus and an indeterminable number of elves. He owns eight or nine flying reindeers. Yet Santa Claus, as well as Father Christmas, is of Dutch descent.
They are of course figures of jest, in the same league as the Easter Bunny. What about Mrs Claus? There is only one Mrs Claus in The Netherlands and that is Queen Beatrix. She was married to Prince Claus. The Dutch royal family apparently calls him Santa Claus. He was quite well-liked. As an aside, he was just a German commoner with a titled mother (an Honourable Lady), who upon his marriage was promptly ennobled.
Santa Clause – Coca Cola Clause – and Father Christmas are derived from the only real Saint Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, a fourth century bishop of Myra. Dutch emigrants took him to America. His name day (6 December) is widely celebrated throughout The Netherlands and Flanders on Saint Nicholas’ eve, also called presents’ evening.
Sinterklaas is a bishop and a children’s friend. This would be reason enough to call for a serious investigation in most countries. Although not in the Low Countries, they have figured out that Santa Claus is primarily a guy sponsored by Coca Cola in an odd costume plus a santa hat and that Sinterklaas is the genuine article (with mitre).
Of course Sinterklaas has understudies. When I was young this was uncle Harry, married to aunt Ria, who was just a bit too merry and you would always recognised him immediately in spite of his disguise. You certainly refused to sit on his lap. I mean: there is only one Sinterklaas. So of course without any scruples I would sit on the Pope’s lap but some of the Sinterklaas understudies make me doubtful.
Sinterklaas is the only Turkish person (Bishop of Myra) who is feted by everyone in The Netherlands, although we maintain he hails from Spain. Even ultra right-wing politician Geert Wilders is a fan. Actually Sinterklaas is just an ordinary Turkish bishop. In past times naughty children were put in sacks and taken to Spain. This no longer happens but it would be marvellous if Sinterklaas could make an exception for Geert Wilders.
At the same time Sinterklaas is quite politically incorrect. He is accompanied by Black Petes. These are his servants, blackened up a la Al Jolson. For many foreigners who move to The Netherlands this appears quite shocking. Yet, this year, I even spotted a blacked up black actor at Sinterklaas News.
Sinterklaas News is a phenomenon. Every evening numerous Dutch kids are glued to the box anxious not to miss the latest developments involving Forgetful Pete and Precise Pete. Most years there is a problem with the presents but it is always solved by the 5th of December. This year there was a bit of bad press because, allegedly, it was all little bit too exciting for the very young ones.
Sinterklaas travels on the roofs riding a white horse and Black Petes chuck presents down the chimneys. Personally I am glad I don’t have to stuff a stocking because I have very sweaty feet.
I continue to believe in Sinterklaas in spite of the fact that he moves about by steamship and on a white horse. In The Netherlands children continue to put out their shoes near a chimney and sing the same songs at the top of their voice: There is a steamship approaching. Can this not be modernised? Well, it is certainly betters a reindeer pulled sleight and it keeps Father Christmas or Santa Claus out in the cold just a bit longer.
My own wish list has been the same for years: 1. Kate Winslet 2. Nigella Lawson and 3. Blondie (since 1978). As usual I will receive a towel and face towel with a filled envelope, from two adorable elderly Sinterklaas understudies. Splendid too.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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