… he’s not real!
(I shocked you there, didn’t I?)
THIS is the real Santa Claus, aka Sinterklaas:
Although I had to let go of the brilliant idea that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus, even Wikipedia agrees that we, in the Low Countries, have the true and original saint. Ha! Moreover, we’ve managed to get the Americans to adopt him for Christmas, only to have them export him back to Europe. It is ironic, in a way, but since it means I got presents TWICE in december as a kid, you don’t hear me complaining ;).
See, for us, Belgian kids, the highlight of the year is December 6 – sure, you get presents from your parents and family with Christmas, but the true event to look forward to is when Sinterklaas arrives in the country. Days, even weeks before the big day, we would put out our shoe near the window, hoping Zwarte Piet (Black Pete, Sinterklaas’ servant) would know we didn’t have a chimney and he’d have to get in through the window. We’d leave our letter to Sinterklaas, with a long list of the presents we would like to receive, a carrot or a sugar lump for his big, white horse Slechtweervandaag (Badweathertoday), and occasionally a beer for Zwarte Piet (not always – we didn’t want to get him drunk). The next morning, the letter was gone, the carrot was left half-eaten and the beer bottle was empty, but some candy had been left instead. The proof was overwhelming: Sinterklaas had come! And he had taken our letter!
My mum was sure sometimes she heard the horse on the roof, but I never did… but then again I wasn’t such a good listener. Sometimes though, Zwarte Piet would slam open the door and throw cookies and candy around – you never knew when he would come, or from which door (although attentive children might have noted it was the door through which their father disappeared 5 minutes before) and you had to be REALLY quick to see him. But when the doorbell rang on the night of December 5th, and Sinterklaas and 3 or 4 of his Zwarte Piet’s entered the room, everybody froze. Excitement, because the big bag Zware Piet was carrying promised presents, but also fear: Sinterklaas had a big book in which all your mischief was listed, and you could only hope the list wasn’t so long that Zwarte Piet would be tempted to put you in the bag and take you back to Spain with them… . The way they were standing behind their boss, looking very big and black (it’s not racism. it’s from going up and down the chimney.) and serious, was pretty daunting, so I generally tried to please them by singing or playing a song on my flute – and it worked every time ;). Of course, the Sint couldn’t make it to our house every year – there were just too many kids to be visited, but even when he was busy he’d make a quick stop during the night and left our well-deserved gifts in our shoes.
This year though, I have bought the Sint a gift. A GPS. Because my grandma has moved 3 times since I was small, but he still brings MY chocolate to HER place. And you know what I found in my shoe this year?
An un-eaten carrot!
If you want to know the whole story of Sinterklaas/Santa Claus, I refer to Wikipedia, here is the story of how I, as a Belgian child in the 80’s, experienced the whole thing – traditions evolve and differ slightly in the Netherlands, Germany, … so you might find other versions elsewhere.