One of the paradoxes with which I am so intrigued about the Netherlands is the ceremony of Sinterklaas - a tradition that is enacted and enjoyed by the entire Dutch population (or so it seems) every year from some time in the middle of November until the 5th December, when this venerable old Turkish bishop finally dispenses toys and goodies to the children of the region. Phew! Long sentence huh?
The paradox is this. the Netherlands is held up to the world as socially liberal, very politically correct, and very progressive in its attitudes to its cosmopolitan society. The tradition of Sinterklaas is therefore totally contradictory to this perception. Indeed, the good bishop who is said to travel by ship from Spain (of all places! I mean historically, this was the no no nation!), is accompanied by his helper Zwartepiet, an exceptionally dark skinned young man, dressed in garish stripey clothes and looking very similar to the little toy people of similar colouring and clothing that are now banned in the UK.
Even more astonishing is the fact that in today's ceremony, not only is Sinterklaas accompanied by a dozen or so Zwartepiets, but practically all the children in the country, regardless of ethnic origin, blacken their faces, don equally garish clothing, and flock to the nearest harbour to welcome the old boy and his bevy of piets. For harbours are the thing, and Sinterklaas has to be delivered by boat to begin his progress throughout the country.
Today, he arrived in Rotterdam, and for the first time ever, the residents of the Oude Haven were invited to join a welcoming committee in the form of a small fleet. I'm sorry and a little sad to say I didn't join them for two pertinent reasons: the first being it was cold, grey and windy, and I don't do that happily; the second was that I am barely keeping up with the mountain of marking and exam preparation I have to do before the end of the semester without any such distractions, so didn't feel I could afford the time to take part. Nevertheless, Koos went off on his scooter with his camera to record the event so that I could blog about it. Wonderful man that he is. He followed the fleet and captured some lovely images of our participating neighbours, most of whom had piled on to three or four barges with all their own children. The excuse is of course that it's for the kids, but I heard that one small boy complained so bitterly about the noise the 'grown-ups' were making that he retreated inside the ship in disgust. So...the fun is not only for the kids.
The results of Koos's trail are these lovely pictures. This is Christmas Dutch style, so I hope you enjoy the novelty of it all. I've kept the images small, but you can click on them to view the full size. If you'd like to see the entire slideshow of Koos's pictures follow this link