Wednesday 12 December 2012


   Sinterklaas fell at the middle of our week away, on Wednesday. Simply put, Sinterklaas is a Dutch version of Christmas that takes place on the 5th of December. It isn't a bank holiday, so his brother still had to go to school, and his parents still opened their shop, but the two of us did stay in for the most part, since it was the day after his dental surgery. We met with his friend, Arthur, for a few hours, and that night we had Dutch Pea Soup as a family (seriously, I could live off of it, it's freaking delicious).
   Now, I recall a few things Seeg once told me about Sinterklaas, but not all of it was present that day. One thing that he says is done a lot is that poems are written for each present and you have to try to guess what the present is from that poem. They didn't do it this year, though, because composing poems in English was too difficult for them - not that they needed to do anything at all. Seeg's family wouldn't have done anything for Sinterklaas this year had I not been there, so I felt quite priveliged.

View from an upper window that morning

   What usually happens is the family will gather around in the living room or somewhere comfortable and sit down with a coffee and talk, spending some family time. Then - always, coincidentally, when one of the parents leaves the room to use the toilet or make coffee - the doorbell rings, and spiced biscuits are thrown through the letter box. The parent usually reappears after making coffee or using the loo to follow the family to the front door to collect the sacks of presents on the doorstep. Yes, Sinterklaas visits in the evening, not the night, when everyone is still awake.
   I don't know if it's a common thing in other Dutch households to do this, but the presents aren't always wrapped normally in the Koenders' household. The presents are emptied onto the floor in the middle of the room, and one person will bend down and get a present for someone else. The recipient then opens the gift, and then picks on out for someone else. They're labelled, of course, it's not just some big bunch of random, vague and generic gifts. At least for us it wasn't. But sometimes a present will be given to the appropriate individual, and that individual will unwrap it only to find another layer of paper with a different name underneath. I can understand how frustrating that must be for children.
   Some presents were even disguised. Simple methods such as putting something inside a catfood box to throw off the size or contents were used, and small things wrapped in a newspaper to make them seem bigger. But Seeg's parents got inventive. The best one Seeg got was two 2ltr bottles of coke. They were empty bottles, and each one had a slipper inside. I thought it was just marvellous. But the best I got was the best one, period. They know all about Grumble Cave Monsters, and when all the gifts were emptied on the floor, there was one huge box with my name on it. Seeg and I were silently concerned that we wouldn't be able to bring whatever was inside, home. But after a few gifts were opened, we concluded that whatever was in this giant box was probably the smallest gift there was, packed like that to throw me off. Clever.

    Well, I was eventually given the box. I removed what turned out to be the only layer of paper - so yes, it was for me - and I ended up looking down on a big cardboard box that read the following: "Dear Dr Kim Wedlock, Monster Patient in Need of Belly Operation, Signed, Dr Pete" - naturally I wasn't sure what to think. I thought perhaps they had found a monster toy that needed repairing. So I opened the big, light box, and found it filled with packing peanuts. I rummaged around and pulled out a giant cricket/newty thing.
   Now, both of Seeg's parents are creative. His mum does the occasional sculpture out of clay, stone, paper mache and so on, and his dad paints now and then, too, so it was clear that they had made what I had pulled out - but it looked rushed. It was made of toilet rolls, an egg carton, masking tape and paint. It was good, of course, but not up to either of their usual standards. I wasn't sure what to make of it, though, so I thanked them before they thrust a pair of scissors into my hands.
   Basically, the gift was inside the cricket/newt. While Seeg had been given slippers inside of coke bottles, I had jewellery supplies inside of a big cardboard cricket monster.

   The gifts we received were not the most amazing thing in the world, but the unwrapping experience is the best I've ever had. I've never had so much fun opening presents before, my face hurt from smiling so much afterwards, and I made sure to take pictures of the cricket monster the next day for memory's sake. It was bloody marvellous.
   I don't care where in the world you are, if you've not wrapped your presents yet, consider trying something like this for one or two, be it for your partner, family, friends or kids. It was so much fun, I highly recommend it!

   So that was Sinterklaas. Another thing which is popular at Sinterklaas is marzipan, and chocolate letters. I had hoped to find some chocolate letters to bring back as gifts, but when we went to buy them on Friday the 7th, they had been taken out of the shops and replaced with Christmas chocolates. I still bought chocolate as gifts, but they weren't letter shaped. I bought them from a great place, though. La Place has a chocolate counter in Arnhem, with so many colourful chocolates - I wanted to get a picture but I felt a bit silly pulling out a DSLR in the middle of a shop, so I've decided that, before I go away again at some point, to buy a new phone that has a good enough camera (like 5MP - perhaps a Samsung Soul U900) to make me not feel so silly in such situations - and I bought friends and family some pieces from there. We had plenty of money left over at the end of the holiday, anyway, since we didn't go out much.

   Like I said, if you've not wrapped your gifts yet, try doing one or two like this. It's so much fun to open, and probably a lot of fun to make!

1 comment:

  1. Marzipan has always freaked me out. A boyfriend gave some to my parents one year and I was not a fan at all.

    Love the wrapping though!


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