Sinterklaas in Amsterdam

Today was the arrival of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam and, before I start, I’ll preface this with pretty much the same disclaimer as last year:
I’m still not Dutch so I’m talking about my understanding of things as an English person who’s heard about all the traditions as such second and third hand. To any Dutch readers who might be here – if you notice any mistakes then please point them out and don’t hate me ūüėČ

This year was, in many ways, similar to last year in that Leonoor, Dania and I went into town and had breakfast before the parade. The difference was that we weren’t in quite so early because I didn’t misread the times this time (I royally messed up last year!) However, just like last year we got completely drenched in the rain so I guess some things never do change! That said, it did dry up as the parade came by so I managed to get some slightly better photos this year.

So, as last year, I’ll start with something of an explanation for those who would be completely flummoxed without one.¬†
Sinterklaas, as you can probably guess from the name, is the Dutch version of the embodiment of Saint Nicholas and stays a little closer to the figure of the Saint than our own Father Christmas or, indeed, Santa Claus. We’ll not get into the fact that Father Christmas and Santa Claus are technically different figures who got merged in the Victorian, I think, era right now… that’s just going to complicate matters!

So, in mid-November each year, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by boat from Spain which is where he spends most of the year (well, where did you think he got mandarins from if he lived in the North Pole!!). Once he arrives in the Netherlands he has separate ‘arrivals’ in different cities around the country.

He’s also assisted by Zwarte Piet, or multiple of them, a character who traditionally wears blackface which, quite understandably, has caused a lot of controversy over recent years. To be honest, other than the fact it’s Sinterklaas and I’m basically a large child, part of the reason I enjoy going is to see how what is a very alive political and social issue develops from year to year. I believe they’re currently trying to gradually change it¬†to reflect soot, with the story already being that he’s black because of going down chimneys,¬†and it was possibly to see a¬†bit¬†of a difference this year. It’s probably not fair to change him instantly or without some story-line continuity when it’s a children’s character who they believe in so I understand why there’s desire for a more gradual development as opposed to instant change.

We decide not to ask for pepernoten Рthe little biscuit things that are associated with this time of year and are given out by the Pieten along the route Рand leave them for the real children. Weirdly enough, however, one gentleman came over quite enamoured with my handbag and basically forced me to take quite a lot so I think Dania was happy in the end Рthank you Sisi handbag!

So, after a while of standing out in the cold – and minus Dania as she was volunteering that afternoon – Leonoor and I decided to go and grab a warm drink and head back quite content. I mean, for all it’s something for children it’s a really interesting thing culturally and politically to experience as a non-Dutch person. And, lets be honest, I’m never going to grow up!!

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