“Sinterklaas” is Santa Claus in the Netherlands.
Dutch Christmas traditions are alive and well in the memories of Bethany Home’s chaplain Fritz Harms in Ripon as he remembers celebrating the event as a child in Holland, centered on the “Story of Christmas” that has long centered on the birth of the Christ Child.
The many Dutch people who have immigrated to the Ripon community over past years, no longer place the wooden shoes of their children on the front porches hoping St. Nicholas would leave something such as an orange for them as he passes in the night.
St. Nicholas Day was celebrated on December 5 and December 6 when children would receive their presents, completely separated from the religious celebration on December 25. Today much of society has gone secular both in Holland and in America, he said, focusing more on gift giving that has followed a world culture, Harms said.
He further explained that St. Nicholas Day is celebrated over two days including December 5 and 6 noting that if the 6th fell on a Saturday, he would be in church for three days straight including the next day, a Sunday, with his two brothers and a sister. Harms said the same two day recognition of Easter and Pentecost was also revered by the church community as well as by the government.
Dutch children in the Netherlands anxiously await the arrival of Sinterklaas — Santa — as the parents and friends shop for gifts and write a little poem to accompany each gift.
While he was reminiscing in his office, a 22-member singing group the “Kitchen Air Keynotes” was delivering a litany of Christmas carols in a nearby Bethany Manor dining room for members of his community before carolers went on to the assisted care Beth Haven just around the corner and down the street.
There would always be a large family dinner on Christmas in Holland, he added, often with gluhwein – a German warm wine with added spices. As children, he and his siblings would always get a gift of a Christian book and celebrate the event with a teacher who presented all of her children with Christian books as well.
Singing around a piano as a family was also a very special and heart warning tradition, he said.
Ripon’s Vonnie Van Dyken told of her baking tradition at Christmas where she makes her specialties with an almond paste center. Traditionally they were made in the shapes of letters using a first letter of the first and last names presenting them to that person as a yuletide gift. She added that a lot of the women living in Holland used bakeries to supply their baked goods, but when they moved to the U.S. they had to make them on their own, she noted, using the help of their mothers to ply the old recipes.
Longtime Mantecan Freddy Kooistra who emigrated years ago from his native Friesian Islands recounted his childhood with a passion from years ago. Kooistra, a famed artist in his own right, raised Friesian horses outside of Manteca told of putting his wooden shoes just outside the front door as a boy and a practice that continued into his adulthood when living in Manteca.
The arrival of St. Nicholas, (Sinterklaas) by boat to the Netherlands is one of the favorite Dutch yuletide events. During the two weeks before December 5, Sinterklaas rides across rooftops at night on his white horse, listening through chimneys for good children and leaving them treats and sweeties in the shoes. It is in early December when Sinterklaas delivers gifts to the good children and lumps of coal to boys and girls who have been naughty.
On December 6, St. Nicholas Day, children anxiously wait for Sinterklaas to knock on their doors, although he usually has flown by the time they answer, a sack full of gifts usually awaits them on their doorstep. Following Sinterklaas’ visit, each member of the family takes turns at handing out the Christmas gifts.
The traditional image of Sinterklaas is one of a bishop, clothed in a white garment and wrapped in a red cloak, carrying a staff and a book of names. Unlike his North American cousin, Santa Claus, he is austere and elegant rather than fat and jolly.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email Gkahl@mantecabulletin.com.