Monday, December 3, 2007

Weekend With Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas and his Piets arrived in the Netherlands several weeks ago and we were among the crowds to greet him when he dropped anchor in our own little port just the other side of the town center. Boat loads of Black Pete's (Zwarte Piets) pulled up first and flooded the banks showering the awaiting crowds with tiny treats. Sinterklaas surprised us this year by rounding the corner in a car instead of taking the boat. We figured he's had enough of sailing since he'd come all the way from Spain and wanted to get his land legs back. We may have heard his explanation if Squirrel Monkey hadn't decided she could no longer hold her potty in and began crying in fetal position on the wet lawn. We were forced to exit the crowded park and find the nearest toilet which was many blocks away. By this time the family was ready to call it a day and we left disappointed in not having had the pleasure to hear Sinterklaas speak. He's paid us regular visits anyway dropping off chocolate letters, little cookies, and various little toys in our shoes if we remember to line them up at night and sing a song for him to hear. Actually, he's taken it easy on us as we're still so new to this region and he'll drop things in our shoes if we forget to sing, which we seem to have a problem remembering to do. He's leaving the Netherlands in a day or two and is making his final rounds and saying goodbye to all the little children and their grown parents, so we've seen a lot of him lately.

He stopped by the local Albert Hein on Saturday afternoon to fill a few shoes with goodies so we met him there while we picked up the kids' shoes. This was something Spider Monkey had been hesitant to do from the beginning. The week before his expected visit we were riding over with a shoe in each basket we stopped along the way to drop off a bag of dirty diapers in the diaper recycling bin she called me to a halt. "Mom, do we really have to go to Albert Hein? I mean, where are we going to put our shoes there? I feel kind of funny about this . . . do the Dutch people leave their shoes at the grocery store for Sinterklaas?" I laughed and assured her that if we didn't leave our shoes at the grocery store for Sinterklaas they'd certainly guess we weren't Dutch. Still a bit wary and reluctant to walk into the store with an old shoe in hand, she walked in to find a large table front and center overflowing with children's shoes. Each one of these children showed up on Saturday to claim their shoes and a rightful position on Sinterklaas's lap for a photo op and a bag of Albert Hein goodies from Zwarte Piet.

After returning home the girls could not keep their hands out of these bags and began devouring bags of chips, chocolate letters, skittles, yogurt juice boxes, and oranges with their new Zwarte Piet hats on. We were just in time to welcome good friends, Daphne and Bob, to our home. They must have run into Sinterklaas on their way over because he'd given them a few presents to give to the girls which he hadn't had time to slip into their shoes the night before. The girls delighted over their new toys and things while the adults spread out a table of all the season's goodies: candy, cookies, chocolate, and more. The evening progressed appropriately with handfuls of sweets and a dinner of powdered sugar covered poffertjes until we got to the hot chocolate. Between what happened next and our guests dreadful fear of cats I doubt they'll ever spend another evening in the Jackson Jungle.

First, we dished out the warm chocolate milk topped with whipped cream something which we have each done at one time or another happened, but for Squirrel Monkey it was her first time. She couldn't resist the hot chocolate and took a big sip of the scalding hot liquid and promptly spewed it all out over her pj's which resulted in a blistering mouth and bright red and burning legs. The scream which resulted is still reverberating through the house. We were just getting our hearing back and our nerves settled when the second incident occurred. Everyone was finishing their final sips of the delicious Dutch chocolate milk and Screech Monkey sat at the end of the table licking her lips. I was relishing the peace of the moment, for there had been few this evening. A momentary look of concern crossed her face and we watched as she did the cute little baby thing of pulling up her shirt and looking at her tummy. Just as I was about to comment on that big round tummy full of yummies she looked up and emptied them all onto herself and the floor. As I said, it was a date set up to be wonderful and yet determined to be full of the regular ruckus.

Sunday we attempted another get together with our adopted family, the Brinkhuijsen's. It is customary for families to get together and celebrate Sinterklaas on the day of his departure from the Netherlands to his "retirement" home in Spain. It is difficult to explain the traditional gift giving ritual as it is very quirky and while trying to explain this among other traditions they just settled on inviting us into their family circle for the celebration. It was a memory never to be forgotten. Sinterklaas paid us a visit bringing along a few Zwarte Piets and even discussing each of our habits or bits of daily life he takes a particular interest in with us. Each child got a chance to sit on his lap and talk with him about the things he was most interested about in their life. The girls were still talking about their close encounter with the fatherly figure as they tucked under the covers for bed. He left behind a series of clues and games to help find several bags of wrapped presents for the family which the kids undertook with skill. Each family member took turns opening their gift and picking a present out for the next family member until the bag was empty, as well as our stomachs. As the day progressed we ate food and and followed clues and opened gifts at intervals until the grand finale: the adult presents. This is when it gets a little tricky to describe, so think quirky thoughts (No, Dad, not those kind of adult presents!). This family does as we sometimes do for Christmas and they draw names to pick who is going to give a gift to whom. The person who you pick will likely have something unique about them and that is what you have to work with. It can be something to make fun of or it can be their hobby or about some recent incident which happened with them. So, you pick your "surprise" (pronounced in the French way), gag or good, and "wrap it" in something fitting. I say "wrap" rather loosely because this is the word which threw me off. The gift themselves are actually wrapped in wrapping paper, but the wrapped gift is encased in some form of the present which represents the gift and/or the person whom it is meant for. Example: My gifts were related to my cake decorating and were inside two boxes created to look like a staked cake, even with the candles on top! Along with each gift the present giver must make a Dutch rhyme/poem (Sinterklaasgedicht) about the gift and it is usually quite funny. These little ditties have to be read aloud to the room, of course. I have a feeling I still did not portray this exchange of gifts properly, but imagine an even more creative white elephant party with assigned gifts to fit each personality. It really was fun and the gifts really did fit each person.

An event took place at this final farewell party which brings up a topic worthy of it's own blog.

To be continued . . .

No comments: