I’ve spent the entire day reading A Passage to India in various parts of the apartment - lovely. What a nice way to set my life in order after returning from Belgium this weekend! Hopefully I will be able to post some photos soon.
Saturday was a very important day in the Netherlands - one which I am so pleased I got to participate in - the arrival of Sinterklaas. As you probably know Sinterklaas lives in Spain with his many helpers the Swarte Pieters and every year he travels to the Netherlands by steamboat in order to deliver presents and cookies to those who have been good. His first stop is the harbor in Dordrecht where almost one thousand people flocked to celebrate his arrival. Of course my friends and I had to go. Sinterklaas will make a tour of the Netherlands including a stop in Leiden, but we wanted to welcome him when he first arrived!
The Sinterklaas celebrations here are…intense. There were signs and barriers all over Dordrecht marking out the route Sinterklaas would take through the city. All along this route were event points with giant screens to view the landing, djs playing remixes of traditional songs, and elementary school children performing music and gymnastics. It was amazing how festive everyone was - not just the children, but even the adults and teenagers were excited and enjoying the goings on.
The strangest part was definitely all the children dressed as Swarte Pieters (which was most of the children present). Coming from the U.S. it is really uncomfortable to see white people in black face in any context, but for them Swarte Pieter is just part of the Sinterklaas celebrations. I was torn between wanting to respect their traditions and feeling that the tradition was disrespectful to a whole group of people. During the parade there were a number of marching bands (dressed as Swarte Pieters of course) and my friend pointed out that the black people in the bands had also painted themselves in order to play the Swarte Pieters. It was bizarre. Even the police officers were dressed as Swarte Pieters!
As soon as Sinterklaas landed he was greeted by the mayor who also sang and danced with everyone else. Then he made his way through the city on his white horse Amerigo surrounded by the Swarte Pieters throwing Pepernoten (little spice cookies) hither and yon. The dutch Sinterklaas looks like my image of a St. Nicholas. He had the long white beard, tall red cardinal’s hat with the gold cross across it and on his red robes. He also carried the traditional gold staff with the curl at the top. Really we were only able to see him for a second when he rode by, but the atmosphere was amazing. During the wait before he landed everyone sang songs about Sinterklaas and you could hear them singing, all over the city from the harbor to the station.