Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Amusing Sinterklaas postcard from The Netherlands

I received this amusing Postcrossing postcard — which implies that aliens are at the helm of the immortal folklore figure Sinterklaas — this week from Carolien in The Netherlands. On the back, Carolien wrote:
"This card is about St. Nicolas, also called Sinterklaas. It's a Dutch tradition, for hundreds of years, and 'he' is still alive. He comes with his steamboat from Spain with his 'Zwarte Pieten'1 to the Netherland to bring presents to all the children. We keep this tradition alive. We know a lot of songs about Sinterklaas we sing with our children at night, hoping he brings presents in their shoes."

Sinterklaas, it is generally believed, served as a primary inspiration for Santa Claus, but is different than our Santa. Both Sinterklaas and, to a lesser extent, Santa Claus are separate parts of this month's holiday celebrations in The Netherlands. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the complicated and debated ways in which the two figures are intertwined:

"Sinterklaas is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus. It is often claimed that during the American War of Independence, the inhabitants of New York City, a former Dutch colonial town (New Amsterdam), reinvented their Sinterklaas tradition, as Saint Nicholas was a symbol of the city's non-English past. The name Santa Claus supposedly derived from older Dutch Sinter Klaas. However, the Saint Nicholas Society was not founded until 1835, almost half a century after the end of the war. In a study of the 'children's books, periodicals and journals' of New Amsterdam, the scholar Charles Jones did not find references to Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas. Not all scholars agree with Jones's findings, which he reiterated in a book in 1978. Howard G. Hageman, of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, maintains that the tradition of celebrating Sinterklaas in New York existed in the early settlement of the Hudson Valley. He agrees that 'there can be no question that by the time the revival of St. Nicholas came with Washington Irving, the traditional New Netherlands observance had completely disappeared.' However, Irving's stories prominently featured legends of the early Dutch settlers, so while the traditional practice may have died out, Irving's St. Nicholas may have been a revival of that dormant Dutch strand of folklore. In his 1812 revisions to A History of New York, Irving inserted a dream sequence featuring St. Nicholas soaring over treetops in a flying wagon – a creation others would later dress up as Santa Claus."

Most agree, though, that ancient astronauts are not at the center of the Sinterklaas/Santa Claus mythos.

Or are they?

1. On a non-silly note, for more on Zwarte Piet/Black Pete, check out this New York Times piece by Arnon Grunberg: "Why the Dutch Love Black Pete."

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