Monday, November 27, 2006

Conveying the mood of the season

Here's a movie I made last week, featuring a barrel organ in a Rotterdam shopping centre.
Sinterklaas songs are uptempo and cheerful.
After december 5 the organ grinders replace their punchhole playbooks by the much more solemn and syrupy Christmas repertoire, that we then only have to endure for 3 weeks!

Just discovered: there is a film about Santa Claus where the connection is made with our Spanish Sinterklaas. The film is called Nicholas of Myra and the trailer can be viewed here.

Following the encouter with the barrel organ I went to market. As usual really lovely colours and patterns...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Why we have such a brief Christmas season

Every year mid-November Sint Nicolaas, aka Sinterklaas, gathers his colourful assistants around him and travels by steamboat all the way from his episcopal palace in Spain to the Dutch and Flemish*) children he loves so dearly.

The good old holy man needs his huge army of helpers because the period from mid-November to His birthday on December 5 **) is a very busy period.
Mind you, the long journey over sea is only the beginning. His official arrival in Holland is a very elaborate affair with a cacophony of ship's hooters, singing children, a speech by the mayor and a ride on the white horse across the city to greet as many children as possible.

But then the real work has yet to begin. Every night when the children are asleep he gets on his horse and rides over the rooftops (!!!) to deliver small presents through the chimneys for children who have been good. Don't get me wrong, his assistants lower themselves through said chimneys and do they moan and complain? Not at all, they don't notice the difference because they are all black! Once in the house the Zwarte Pieten (every assistant is called Piet, pron. Pete***)) collect the carrot children have put in their shoe as a treat for the horse and a small present takes its place.

Now you may wonder how does Sinterklaas know if a child has been good or bad? He has his huge book with the names of all children in it and a brief description of their characteristics. Easy.
The Zwarte Pieten carry heavy bags that have two functions. On arrival they are full of sweets and presents, and when empty come in handy to take bad children to Spain, a country from which, as we all know, there is no return.****)

December 5 it is time for the actual celebration of Sinterklaas's Birthday.
This takes place in the evening and there is no employer who refuses their staff a few hours off early to be able to have a proper pakjesavond (boxing evening).

Hot chocolate and all sorts of traditional sweets are served, the children and grownups alike sing Sinterklaas songs, and then there is a knock on the door (we sing "Hear Who Knocks There, Children?"). If Sint can find the time he comes to deliver the presents personally, reads what he knows about the children (and grownups too), is served a glass of Dutch genever and then hurries on to his next assignment. If he can't stop by personally he just delivers the bag, knocks on the door and is around the corner before you can say Pietjepuk (Dutch for Jack Robinson).

So this is in brief the traditional Sinterklaas celebration in Holland. No wonder the shops where the Good Holy Man buys the presents, know better than to start the Christmas frenzy before December 5. Sinterklaas would be deeply offended and that just would not do, would it?...

Before saying Sinterklaas looks very old please remember two things:
firstly his age is counted in the hundreds of years and secondly he can be very impatient about grownups whose vices are written in his book.
Sorry I had to pinch this image, only small children and a tv crew were allowed to come near the good holy man.

PS Of course this is a nationalistic view. For an unbiased description of the Sinterklaas phenomenon read Invader Stu's blog on the same subject.

*) Te Flemish area includes a tiny bit of northern France, where some still speak what is essentially the Netherlands language - and many celebrate Sinterklaasfeest.
**) Some claim the correct date is December 6.
***)The In the Basement concert was on December 5, 2005. It featured Rachel Fuller and Pete Townshend - there is no such thing as coincidence, Dale.
****)Unconfirmed rumour has it that bad children are used as base material for the special Sinterklaas treats called "pepernoten". I personally think this story was invented to stimulate good behaviour.

The welcome to the steamboat from Spain is a noisy affair.

Blogger's Block

Attentive readers are sure to have figured it out: blogger's block has (had) me. New posts don't come easy or not at all.

It would be a shame just to give up now, especially after the warm support I received from several readers who must have sensed something was brewing. So watch this space and expect a new post within 24 hours, about how in Holland and Belgium we keep Santa Claus at bay at least until December 6.

Until then I suggest you follow the FlickR link under my profile. FlickR is a godsend, because it can make a much greater number of pictures easily accessible. Besides, if handled properly, it makes connecting with people with specific interests much easier.

So have lots of viewing pleasure, FlickR is a true treasure trove of interesting images.
There are disadvantages too. It takes much time to tag, describe and post the images properly, and in Holland FlickR is not a word we use in public.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kitsch is a beautiful wor(l)d

They never fail to touch me, these shop windows or market stalls filled to the point of overflowing with sweet, romantic colours. It's just about everything the taste police would like to ban, and I wouldn't like to be caught owning such things.

Yet I find them irresistibly charming and I regret the many times I forgot to take pictures of that colourful abundance. Luckily at least I have taken six pictures of these lovely items.

What? Is it really more than two weeks since my last post? Bad blogger, bad blogger (beats head against the wall).