Sunday, December 5, 2010

Here Comes Sinterklaas

Magnet # 410:  Holland Wooden Shoes

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Me

Tonight, in places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Aruba, and Suriname families will be gathering for the biggest celebration of the year - Sinterklaas.  It's believed to be the birthday of the mythical figure Sinterklaas, who's developed into Santa Claus into other cultures.  And on this night, after presents have been exchanged and everyone has gone to bed, he fills shoes that have been left out with candy and presents.  Sure, it sounds like Christmas, but in some locales like Holland, it's even more popular than that mega holiday.

The Sinterklass figure stems from St. Nicholas, patron saint of children and sailors who's also the patron saint of Amsterdam. He was born back in the third century to a wealthy family of devout Christians in the Greek village of Patara, and was their only son.  His parents died when he was young and Nicolas sold his inheritance as he believed Jesus would have wanted him to, giving all of his earnings to the poor.  He joined the Church, eventually becoming a Bishop, and was famous for his acts of charity, but was also imprisoned for his faith.  He was released and finally passed away on December 6th, which has since become his feastday.  Since his passing, various miracles began to be attributed to him, including one which tells of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowry and therefore could not be married.  They were going to be sold into slavery, but on different occasions bags filled with gold or golden balls flew in through the window and landed in their shoes, saving them.  St. Nicholas was believed to be responsible for the acts of charity.  Another legend tells of a young boy who was kidnapped on St. Nichloas' feastday and forced to become the cupbearer for a king in a faraway land.  His parents were distraught but decided to still hold a small celebration on feastday of the following year, during which they prayed for their son's well being.  St. Nicholas is said to have appeared to the boy and miraculously delivered him back to his parent's table, with the king's golden cup still in his hand.  Thanks to these and other tales, with time St. Nicholas slowly evolved into Sinterklaas, who visits good children on the eve of his feastday, delivering candies and small gifts, which he places in their socks and shoes.  He's also been known to leave behind switches for ill-behaved children, or simply take them back with him in a sack when he leaves.  And he's probably more popular in the Netherlands than anywhere else.  There, he's believed to set out from Spain in a steamboat and nearly every town in the Netherlands holds a parade during which Sinterklaas arrives on a white horse, although some may have him use a helicopter, carriage, boat, or even a moped.  Sinterklaas also brings his helper, Zwarte Piet, along for the ride.  This character started off as a devil that Sinterklaas had defeated and held captive in chains.  But, over time, Zwarte Piet has become more controversial, particularly because his face is blacked out and he resembles a Moor.  Some have contended that he is a racial insult, and have tried to replace his blackface with a rainbow paint scheme, but with little success.  To the people of the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is a beloved character and this year, the Sinkerklaas festivities will likely continue, unaltered.

I'm not sure if Sinterklaas has ever placed his gifts in wooden shoes like the ones depicted on this magnet or if he sticks with the more traditional variety.  Years back, footwear like this was so popular in Dutch culture that its people were nicknamed "cloggies."  They aren't used everyday anymore, but some Dutch do use them for activities like gardening or farming and believe that they're good for feet.  But they're still a symbol of the Netherlands, particularly Holland, and are featured on all sorts of souvenirs.  Regardless of what kind of shoes children in the Netherlands place by their windows, doors, or fireplaces tonight, I'm sure the good girls and boys can look forward to discovering all sorts of goodies in the morning that Sinterklaas has left for them.

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