Hard to believe we're almost a week into Advent. Today, December 5, is Sinterklass eve. The Netherlands celebrates this day as a special holiday. Other countries identify the celebration of St. Nicholas on December 6. Sinter Klass means St. Nicholas in Dutch. In The Netherlands, today is the primary day for gift giving. One website describes the occasion like this:
"On December 5th children leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklass's horse, they will be left some sweets. Children are told that Black Peter keeps a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a book and that good children will get presents from Sinterklass, but bad children will get chased by Black Peter with a stick!! Dutch tradition says that he lives in Madrid, Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him. Every town in Holland has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinter Klass who help give the presents out. Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day in Holland, with a Church Service and family meal. Sometimes there is a special Christmas Day 'Sunday School' in the afternoon at the church, where the Christmas Story and other traditional stories are told. My friend was given a book, an orange and biscuits. These are often the only presents children will get on Christmas Day because they have already received most of their presents on St. Nicholas Day. On Christmas Eve night, Dutch children believe that Santa Claus, (who is also call 'Christmas man' to avoid confusion with Sinterklass!) comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!"
Most of the Dutch families that we have known through our church have shared in some tradition that is related to giving gifts on December 5 or 6 and focusing more on the birth of Christ and the spiritual significance of Christmas on Christmas Eve and Day. There's perhaps something to be said for separating the two traditions although I must admit as an American who grew up with the excitement of opening gifts on Christmas morning and believing that Santa Claus actually paid our house a visit on Christmas Eve, I'd hate to have kids and families miss out on that joy.
I do not believe that as Christians we are incapable of celebrating both the secular and the sacred all at the same time. My point is to simply be intentional about what all of your traditions mean. As we buy and share gifts for our loved ones, may it always point to the great gift that we've been given in Jesus Christ. And may you and your loved ones enjoy your traditions, whatever they may be!
An extra bonus tonight was on our walk when we discovered that this wonderful International Food market that comes into town now and again is back. I stopped by the Dutch booth where they were selling huge wheels of Gouda cheese and pouring batter to make fresh pancakes to wish them a happy Sinterklass Day! The girls looked up with the most amazing surprised smiles and said dank u well, which of course means Thank you in Dutch!Today I am thinking about the many wonderful Dutch friends we've made through the years and hope that they have enjoyed their special celebration of St. Nicholas. (By the way, did you know that St. Nicholas actually comes from Turkey!! Check out this link if you are interested!)