Sinterklaas Came to Town

Sinterklaas chocolates in Belgium. 
Happy Sinterklaas Day from Belgium!

A couple of weeks ago, there was a Sinterklaas parade in Roeselare, and naturally, I assumed that Sinterklaas was the same bearded, red-suit-wearing man that gives gifts to good little boys and girls in America on December 25th. While there are some similarities between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, they are not the same. As the parade rolled past us, I started to get curious about this Sinterklaas fellow and his funny looking 'elves.' I turned to Chris and said, "Honey, why are all of the elves in the parade black?" To which he replied, "Lana (silly girl), they are not black people, but they are painted black." That confused me even more! Why would they go through all of the trouble to paint themselves black, and what are they supposed to be anyway? They were like no elves I had ever seen before! I was so confused!

I promptly asked our new Belgian friends about Mr. Sinterklaas and his black 'elves.' After much laughter, I received a brief history lesson. . . 

So here's what I learned about Christmas traditions in our new home. In Belgium (and several other countries with Dutch roots), Sinterklaas brings gifts and candy to good little boys and girls on December 6th. Not too different from what Santa Claus does on December 25th. Today is the name day of the patron saint, Saint Nicholas, who is patron saint of Amsterdam, sailors and children. Since Sinterklaas is a saint of sorts, he wears a tall red and gold hat with a cross on it. Children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace on the evening of the 5th and go to bed in eager anticipation of what will fill those shoes in the morning. Santa doesn't have a sleigh with reindeer, but he does scale the rooftops on his trusty white horse. Like the Santa Claus I grew up believing in, Sinterklaas also has little helpers, but they are not elves, they are the 'Zwarte Pieten.' That literally translates to 'black petes,' but our friends laughed as they said it also could mean 'black dicks.' You should have seen my face when they told me that! Strange Holiday elves! The reason they are black is because they slide down the chimney to fill the shoes with candy and toys; Sinterklaas just chills with his horse up on the rooftops. 

I think that Sinterklaas also lives in Spain, which sounds a whole lot better than having to live at the North Pole! Anyway, he came to Roeselare with his Zwarte Pieten a couple weeks ago, and here are a few pictures from the parade.