No, not George, Brad, Johnny, or whoever it is that lights your fire ladies! Do any of the aforementioned men need their surnames anymore I wonder?.
It's...... Sinterklaas (who? you might say). Let me enlighten you. Sinterklaas is the dutch equivalent of Saint Nicholas (Santa). But there are some differences.
He arrived in the Netherlands at the weekend, from Spain, on a steamboat with his helpers, called Zwarte Piets (black Petes - men and woman dressed up with their faces painted black - from the soot of the chimney) and his white horse named Amerigo. Sint (as he's called for short) is a kindly old man, dressed in red robes, with a long white beard and all the accessories of a Bishop. Once he is in the country, he is everywhere (explained as Sint's helpers) and appears at all the parties hosted handed out gifts. For the past couple of weeks, every evening a children's tv program has shown a 'fictitious' daily review of Sinterklaas's progress and all the antics that go on whilst on his journey here - usually chaotic! The kids love it.
The feast of Sinterklaas takes place on the eve of 5th December "pakjesavond" (present evening) when families exchange gifts and make lighthearted fun of each other. There are unusual wrappings, treasure hunts, clues and a poem to the recipient. It really does have a fun, personal feel to the celebration rather than a focus on the biggest most expensive gift around (although I'm sure its heading that way). Piles of candy, cakes and cookies are eaten and a real feast is had. The table is set with each place setting being a chocolate letter of first initial for each person. On the morning of 6th December the children will receive gifts from Sinterklaas.
The madness has started and will continue 'til 5th December. Everywhere you go there are Zwarte Piets handing out all kinds of candy and pepernoten (small round cinnamon/ginger biscuits). As with Christmas there are all kinds of traditional songs and the shops are filled with Sinterklaas stuff. The children are so full of sugar and excitement that I'm sure they are all sleep deprived for the next couple of weeks. Children now leave out a shoe overnight in the hope that Zwarte Piet will pop down the chimney and leave some more candy or a small gift.
There is no religious tone for Sinterklaas. Its celebrated by everyone. However, Sinterklaas is actually based on the real life patron saint of children and sailors (maybe that's why he arrives on a boat) and does have a history of Christianity, and his tomb in Turkey.
We will enjoy it all - the cookies, chocolate, candy and watching how excited Luca gets every morning checking his shoe and singing all the songs until 5th / 6th December is here and he is uncontrollable!!
And to top it all, its also my son's birthday on 5th December. Can you imagine??
We will then take a deep breath and begin the countdown to Christmas. Phew!