SINTERKLAAS VS SANTA CLAUS
The 25th day of December is what Christians around the world is waiting for. However, the Dutch are also looking forward to the 5th day of the month to celebrating Sinterklaasfeest or St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas (Sint Nicolaas) was originally a patron saint of children and sailors who liked placing presents secretly in one’s shoes.
Although Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are old, have full white beard, wear red outfit, and deliver presents only for nice children, they still have some other characteristics not in common. Sinterklaas rides a horse named Amerigo, not a sleigh pulled by Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his pack. He has less fat on his tummy than Santa Claus, doesn’t live in North Pole, is assisted by his humble servants called Zwarte Piet (curly-haired man who’s got dark skin from chimney ashes), wears a Pope-styled red mitre and holds a golden walking stick with decorative curl shape on top.
Another important fact about Sinterklaas: he becomes the foundation of American Santa Claus character.
SINTERKLAAS IS COMING TO THE OFFICE
Basically, Sinterklaasfeest is about present giveaways for (good) children, just like Santa Claus. However, nowadays some corporations in The Netherlands regard Sinterklaas as an alternative Christmas gathering besides a Christmas dinner. Therefore, the celebration is not limited for children and no worries, no bad-behaved children or mankind are taken to Spain in Sinterklaas’ sack.
What differs Sinterklaas celebration from any regular Christmas party is the rituals related to exchanging presents that takes some efforts. Oh well, if you associate the effort with creativity, it becomes a seriously fun thing to do.
Honestly, I’m not traveling anywhere nor do anything special this Christmas, but I recall unique traditions and wonderful moments of Sinterklaas event for the first time in an office in The Netherlands back in year 2005.
First thing first, all of us had to pick a random lottery, a jar containing small pieces of paper rolled with a recipient’s name written in it, to define to whom we had to give the present.
2. Be creative with the present
Anything significant about him or her? Is she afraid of spiders? Is he a devoted yogi? The chosen present must reflect a recipient’s personality, together with a poem or surprise in Dutch and the packaging. The latter must be presented as humorous as possible in a good way. Don’t surprise an arachnophobia by putting spiders inside a gift box, that’s nasty and mean. But nothing’s too serious either, otherwise it’s not fun any longer.
The lottery said that my present would go to Herman, the big boss who is (unfortunately) discreet about his personal life. I had no idea about his favourite drinks, TV shows or else, neither did my colleagues. All I know was that he’s quarter-Indonesian (if not half) and a family man.
Food was the only thing I could think of as a present if no great ideas running to my mind. Thus, I decided to give something physically cute and sweet taste I saw everyday in grocery stores during Christmas time, marzipan, regardless he would like it or not. Then, I created a giant De Ruyter packaging, a famous Dutch hagelslaag or chocolate sprinkle brand, to enclose the gift. Plus, to spice things up, I added marshmallows, chocolate syrup and shredded newspapers inside the giant box.
FYI, the Dutch introduced their traditional delicacies, including chocolate sprinkle, to Indonesian people during the 350-year-conquest in Indonesia. So, I believe historical connection between Dutch and Indonesian, represented with hageslaag, symbolized Herman’s origin. Sounds conceptual or simply out of a line? Whatever. Plus, to spice things up, I added marshmallows, chocolate syrup and shredded newspapers inside the gift.
What I did next:
- Wrap the marzipan package with newspaper.
- Mix marshmallows and shredded newspapers (an instant solution to save money on marshmallows) with chocolate syrup in a bowl.
- Place the present inside a cereal box, then pour chocolate-stained marshmallows and shredded newspapers on top.
- Close the cereal box and wrap it with a drawing paper.
- Draw De Ruyter packaging design on the drawing paper with coloured pencil.
- Make a poem. Gosh, I’m just not good at it! I totally forget what I wrote back then.
3. Place one side of a boot
in front of the fireplace beside the entrance door.
The day before, we left one side of our boots near the office entrance door. So Sinterklaas could put the present next morning, an alphabet chocolate bar according to the first name of the owner, in the boot.
We were all more cheerful than ever despite the tight deadline. The day began with eating an alphabet chocolate from Sinterklaas and kruidnootjes, tiny rounded-shaped spice biscuits, from
Zwarte Piet our secretary. A simple yet traditional lunch at noon, kerstol met amandespijs, sweet bread with almond paste, and Old Amsterdam’s oude kaas or old cheese, signified that the most anticipated moment was just a few hours more to come.
Et voilà! At 5 pm, Sinterklaas entered the office carrying his sack of presents. Surprisingly, without Zwarte Piet!
Thanks to my colleagues who captured these special moments, I am able to show it to you all. Check out if the presents truly represent recipients’ personality…..
A cat lover wearing Dutch klompen
An egg eater reading poetry
The other big boss is trying to give up on smoking
Now a bug hater can use scissors to slay any bugs
What’s inside the balloons? Mouse, fleas and other bug members!
Guess who was the man behind the Sinterklaas suit? Herman himself, to whom I delivered the present! I couldn’t be happier to see Dutch Santa rolled his sleeve to dig dirty marshmallows and shredded paper inside the giant De Ruyter box with bare hands to reach the present, without any help from Zwarte Piet.
Aha! Gigantic hagelslaag?
See the chocolate stain in his arm and gift?
Tah….. Dah…..fruity marzipan!
Time flew fast with lots of laughter and happiness regardless what we got from Santa. It might not be a feast with fine dining experience in a fancy restaurant, yet Sinterklaasfeest brought us together in particular way, more than just small talk to everyone in the beginning that ends up with an isolation of several people with common interest for more specific conversation while zipping a glass of wine.
It was time to unmask seniority and superiority in hierarchical environment for once and for all. On top of it, it really put us to the test how well we know our own colleagues or boss(es) in person after some time, that could sometimes be the hardest job of all. Indeed, some of us failed to do so, especially me, and realize it after the feast. Mingle more, folks, and build better human relationship out of it….
Merry Christmas, everyone! May joy and kindness be with you!