Today it is ‘Sinterklaas’ in the Netherlands! We celebrate Sinterklaas’ birthday in our own special Dutch way. Sinterklaas may sound unfamiliar to you, but he is actually the same guy as the North-American Santa Claus, that’s right the jolly Christmas guy! Someone in the States redesigned Sinterklaas a long time ago and someone else exported that guy back to my country, and now we have both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, but we call the latter ‘The Christmas Man’ though.
I met Sinterklaas in a grocery store two years ago
And the Sinterklaas ‘surprise’ is one of my favorite Dutch traditions because we get to give and receive presents, we get to be creative because we need to hide or disguise our presents in a crazy and fun way, and we get to tease and make fun of each other in an accompanying poem! This website really describes the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition well, and here is what they say about ‘surprise’:
The Dutch are busy too – shopping for, and more importantly, making presents. Tradition demands that all packages be camouflaged in some imaginative way, and that every gift be accompanied by a fitting poem. This is the essence of Sinterklaas: lots of fun on a day when people are not only allowed, but expected, to make fun of each other in a friendly way. Children, parents, teachers, employers and employees, friends and co-workers tease each other and make fun of each others’ habits and mannerisms.
Another part of the fun is how presents are hidden or disguised. Recipients often have to go on a treasure hunt all over the house, aided by hints, to look for them. They must be prepared to dig their gifts out of the potato bin, to find them in a jello pudding, in a glove filled with wet sand, in some crazy dummy or doll. Working hard for your presents and working even harder to think up other peoples’ presents and get them ready is what the fun is all about.
The original poem accompanying each present is another old custom and a particularly challenging one. Here the author has a field day with his subject (the recipient of the gift). Foibles, love interests, embarrassing incidents, funny habits and well-kept secrets are all fair game. The recipient, who is the butt of the joke, has to open his/her package in public and read the poem aloud amid general hilarity. The real giver is supposed to remain anonymous because all presents technically come from Sinterklaas, and recipients say out loud “Thank you, Sinterklaas!”, even if they no longer believe in him.
I love making something really outrageous and writing a 4-page poem making serious fun of my secret victim, but I always try to make up by hiding a nice gift inside the ‘surprise’. I have made many surprises in my life but my favorite one sofar is this one:
I’d picked Gyano’s name out of the hat and was given an opportunity to make serious fun of his sexlife by wrapping his gift like this and writing a very long, funny and embarrasing poem. It took me a very long time to make, but he really appreciated it because he still keeps this penis doll in a prominent place in his bedroom.