Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Day of the Dutch - J.C. McKenzie

The Day of the Dutch (Sinterklaas Dag)
J.C. McKenzie
http://www.jcmckenzie.ca


My father was born in one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands and grew up skating on frozen dikes and eating salted licorice. Then the world turned to chaos. Our family survived the Second World War and Nazi occupation, but after the Berlin Blockade of 1948, many, including my Opa, feared communism would sweep Europe.

As the cost to rebuild far exceeded the cost of providing a cash incentive, the Dutch government paid citizens to leave the country, and Canada offered a fresh start to many Dutch families. My dad immigrated to Canada with his family when he was ten years old. He learned English on the boat over to North America by reading comic books and once his family settled in Ontario, his dad (my Opa) switched to speaking English and insisted the family be “Canadian,” not Dutch. He wanted to blend in and embrace his new country.

Although my dad complied and became very much an English speaking Canadian, one Dutch celebration remained—Sinterklaas Dag.

Saint Nicholas is what the North American Santa Claus is partly based on, but there are a few differences. Sinterklaas rides on a white horse instead of a sleigh pulled by twelve reindeer (thirteen if you count Rudolph); instead of elves, he as a helper named Zwarte Piet; and instead of gifts on December 25th, Sinterklaas delivers chocolate, kruidnootjes (small ginger cookies) and other goodies on December 5th in children’s wooden clogs (klompen) if they’ve been good. If they’ve been bad, the children get coal in their klompen. If they’ve been really bad, Zwarte Piet would throw them in his sack and take them away.

On December 5th, my sister and I would wake up, excited, and run to the kitchen, smelling of oatmeal, to find our chocolate letters. I always thought her “H” had more chocolate than my “J” and wished I could change my name. My dad would prattle off something in Dutch with a glint in his eye. He’d pull our pigtails and tease us about having to wait until after dinner to eat our chocolate. We never did.

Later, I would check my usually empty mailbox in the dorms at University to find my chocolate letter. Even later, when living in New Zealand with my husband, I’d receive the chocolate letter, shipped all the way from Canada with love. Even now, as an adult with my own family, a little package arrives in the mail with letters for me, my husband, my son.

December 5th is the day the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas. To me, it’s a day of love, smelling of oatmeal and chocolate, and the day I celebrate my Dutch heritage. a Rafflecopter giveaway

16 comments:

Jo-Ann said...

Happy St. Nicholas Day
Your post brings back many beautiful memories. Thank you.
Best
Jo-Ann

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Jo-Ann! I cherish my Sinterklaas memories as well.

Maria K. Alexander said...

It's nice to celebrate your heritage and something so special. Happy Sinterklaas!

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Maria! Same to you :-)

Carol Henry said...

Such wonderful family memories to hold dear. Happy Sinterklaas Dag.

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Carol. Happy Sinterklaas Dag to you too :-)

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Happy Sinterklass! Love reading about the different traditions.

Love the book cover. Great title, too. :)

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Karen! So do I. Darcy Lundeen did a great post with a mini-history lesson on the origins of Sinterklaas (http://thewildrosepress.blogspot.ca/2013/12/santas-journey-darcy-lundeen.html) I LOVED it!

And thanks re:the book cover and title. I've very excited about my debut novels release :-)

Pat Amsden said...

It sounds as if your Dutch heritage gave you some wonderful family traditions!

Charlotte Copper said...

I had to laugh...Her "H" being bigger than your "J". I think its great though that you are still receiving these letters today! Its nice to keep such traditions alive. I'm a day late, but happy Sinterklaas Dag.

Lilly Gayle said...

What a sweet story. I hope you and your family enjoyed Sinterklaas!

Debra St. John said...

What a wonderful tradition.

J.C. McKenzie said...

Pat - Yes, this is just one of many, but I have an equal amount of cherished memories from my mom's family traditions as well. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy Sinterklaas Dag :-)

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Charlotte. In my defense, an H DOES look larger than a J. I don't care what the weight claims on the packaging! Happy Sinterklaas Dag

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thank you Lilly. We definitely did. Hope you had a great day, too!

J.C. McKenzie said...

Thanks Debra! I agree, but then, I'm totally biased. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!