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Saint Nicholas and Some Battlefields

by Rick van der Made in Columns & Opinions , 03 december 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
Length: 4 minutes


When you are reading this, it is almost December 5, or that day has just past. In the Netherlands, we celebrate the children’s party Sinterklaas on that day. Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) is the prematurely born brother of Santa Claus. Originally, Sinterklaas is from Turkey. Long and long ago, however, they did not know where that country was exactly. For convenience sake, the children were told he arrived on his boat from Spain, bearing gifts and accompanied by his assistant Black Pete.


For some years now, an unstoppable cultural war between supporters and opponents of Black Pete - the Saint’s servant who according to the song is always happy and smiling - has been raging. For white Dutch, Black Pete is part of their cultural heritage. For non-white Dutch, he stands for racism, neo-colonialism, and slavery.

It is a war that lasts from approximately early October to December 6th, and in which both parties use all means necessary to change the other one’s mind - from smirching shop-windows to threatening Sinterklaas himself.

Each year, Sinterklaas is welcomed at some port town in the Netherlands. This year, my hometown Zaandijk was bestowed the honour of welcoming him. After weeks of mud-slinging, threats and calls for strong protest by all sorts of groups, the frightened inhabitants of Zaandstad were waiting for the Good Saint with barricades while stocking food supplies.

Fortunately, I was experienced with the combination of Sinterklaas and battlefields. When I was twenty-three, we celebrated Sinterklaas with the entire family at my brother and his husband’s house. They had a working fireplace, in front of which we could sing Sinterklaas songs from the top of our lungs. That was all in good fun.

For my meticulous and organized father, the fireplace meant more than having a good time. To him, an open fire was the ideal solution for not getting annoyed about the immense mountain of junk that we, as a large family, produced.

Where my mother would take pleasure in shredding all the gift-wrapping paper to confetti, and always thought it was time for a nice conga in the living room after unwrapping the presents, my father was trying to recycle the gift-wrapping paper. Good pieces of paper were ironed and folded.


“With efficiency and diligence...,” my father whispered in my left ear, while he picked up a large piece of paper from the ground and put it on the table.

“The man and his false economy...,” mother whispered in my right ear, while pouring some port-wine for herself and making confetti out of a ball of paper, throwing it all over me.

My father just liked cleaning up once in a while. Gift-wrapping paper that couldn’t be reused was collected and thrown into the burning fire. We knew our father, and let him go about his business. To each his own.

That particular fifth of December, our parents had not bought any presents for the children, but had given them an envelope with cash. I believe they contained fifty guilders for each family branch. That was a lot of money at the time. My mother had to collect a lot of supermarket coupons for that. The children were obviously happy with this generous gift. We put the notes carefully back in the white envelope and continued the evening. There was dancing and singing. My brother, his husband, my boyfriend and I did some ABBA. My sister and her friend were play-backing to Melissa Etheridge. My oldest sister and her Kurdish husband wanted to hear something heterosexual - Phil Collins or the Rolling Stones or something similar - but they were the minority now, so could forget about it.

We all went home around 2 a.m. after collecting our gifts. “Where did my envelope with money go?,” I asked my oldest sister. “No idea,” she said, “I can’t find mine either.”

We looked at our father, who was throwing a handful of paper into the fire. In the back of the fireplace I saw a white envelope catch fire.

Not being able to control his cleaning urges, he had thrown all of our money-filled envelopes into the fire. We all looked at the fireplace dumbfounded, but no one looked as alarmed as my father.

“That man and his false economy,” mother said, shaking her head, and emptied the bottle of port-wine in a lemonade glass, while drinking it in one go.

No, I am not afraid of St Nicholas. And as a child from a family in which the minorities became the majority, I was catapulted into post-modern times. I am never that afraid of change.

Belonging to a minority in a family - gay or Kurdish - changed the family. For the better that is. These changes came about with love, understanding and respect.

Minorities in a country, in a culture, can change that country, that culture. For the better. In the Netherlands, we have embraced women’s suffrage, mosques and gay marriage over time. If change comes about with understanding, respect and - who knows - a bit of love, we can all still come a long way.

If this change is set about in a peaceful and non-militant way, I do not see the problem changing Black Pete into Chimney Sweep Pete. Unfortunately, this will keep reminding me of our lost envelopes.

I just take a long draught of red port-wine on December 5th and wish you a very incident free and peaceful December month!



 




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