I remember the excitement as a kid. The joy of the mystery and the wonders of secrets and traditions. Not just on the fifth but the days leading up to it. I don’t believe there is a thing as being too early for a holiday. That’s what makes it exciting, that is what fills you with joy for what’s to come. Eating pepernoten from the first day you can find them in the store. The nights laying in bed wondering what you’ll get from Sinterklaas and if maybe you will see him at night. Singing Sinterklaas songs with my brother who plays the piano, while both shoes are next to the wall (as we were not in possession of a chimney) with a cup of water, carrot, and sugar cubes and my parents are sitting on the couch listening to our awful tunes with a smile. When you hear sounds on the roof during the night of the fifth and start to wonder if they are the hoofs of Amerigo bringing Sinterklaas and the Pieten. The morning when you are standing at the top of the stairs waiting for your alarm clock to tick 6:00 AM so you are allowed to run downstairs towards your shoes and see if you got anything from Sinterklaas. All this leading up to not being able to eat much at breakfast because you have already feasted on the pepernoten that you found in your shoes.
Sometimes we would celebrate it at my grandparents house. We wouldn’t put our shoes near the fireplace then, but we would sit together after dinner. We would settle around the coffee table in the living room; all sitting on either couches, chairs or the floor, with banketstaven en pepernoten. And like clockwork the doorbell would ring and I would be surprised by it everytime, while my brother – who is 3 years older – caught on quicker and was ready and waiting for it each time. We would run downstairs, always fighting who would get there faster, and open the door to no one except a big heavy chest filled with presents. Every time we would try to haul that big thing up the stairs ourselves, not even 2 centimetres of the ground we would realise this wasn’t going to work and yell for our parents to please help us. This happened every year so perhaps we weren’t the brightest children, but looking back, I’d call it part of the tradition. Also, I didn’t notice my grandfather was missing every time right before the doorbell rang, pretending to go to the toilet and coming back well after the chest was upstairs. It’s amazing what you can miss as a kid when you are faced with a chest full of presents.
There is a beauty in Sinterklaas that I sometimes forget. But then you get older and someday you will hear the news either from your parents, annoying brother, or someone from school. The news that kills that joy, the news that makes sure you won’t be filled with nervous excitement anymore the night before, because you just heard he does not exist and it turned out I was one of many that got fooled by the mystery and secrets of Sinterklaas. When he showed up in my primary school I was no longer filled with wonder and admiration for Sinterklaas, but I was wondering who was under that suit and if the little kids smiling up at him knew what would await them when they reached a certain age. It is part of growing up, I guess; that you figure out how things work that you once found so magical and now just seem so dull. Maybe that’s why I strayed from Sinterklaas. It was the slight anger and resentment I still held for it. The fact that the supposed Sinterklaas fooled me and turned out not to exist. That was never a problem for Christmas. Maybe it was just my family, but I never believed in Santa. Christmas was for us a time of the year where we would get together and eat a lovely dinner, but that was it. There was no singing, no putting your shoes next to the wall with carrots and sugar cubes for an all-knowing Saint.
And now, years later, when October rolls around and my family starts debating whether we want to celebrate Christmas or Sinterklaas, as my family lives too scattered to celebrate both most of the time, I always opt for Christmas. It has a better atmosphere and is cozier, is what I tell myself and my family. But maybe it is the fact that I’m still slightly bitter towards Sinterklaas. Or maybe it is because I believe it will never be as good of a celebration as it was: my brother won’t want to sing the songs anymore and I won’t be at the top of the stairs at 6:00 AM. But maybe it is also because Christmas is something more expected. It is an international holiday that you see broadcasted weeks before on social media as the entire world celebrates it. Nowadays, with all the social media and the news, we get so much influence from the outside world that the Dutch traditions seem small and negligible in comparison. Because what’s the difference? Big red suit with a white beard, giving presents to kids with his little helpers, entering through the chimney, either flying in the sky or walking on the roof with a reindeer or a horse.
Yet, when my mom tells me why she likes Sinterklaas so much more, it makes me want to rethink my decision. My mother always opts for Sinterklaas. It is the past of Sinterklaas that she loves so much. We only started celebrating Christmas because my brother and I wanted to. I may have strayed from Sinterklaas, but for my mother it was a time of giving to her kids and old traditions and coming together with family. Christmas may be more expected, but Sinterklaas was a tradition where the entire family would come together and have a fun evening filled with laughter. So maybe after all these years, it’s time I choose Sinterklaas and try to get excited for it again. Not because of the nights laying awake or the singing carols, because that excitement has been lost. But new excitement for seeing my family again and partaking in the old tradition of mystery gifts and poems, eating pepernoten and cooking a feast with my mother in the kitchen. Maybe it’s time to give Sinterklaas another chance, not for the old traditions, but for the new ones we may make.
Written by Anouk Roest