What I remember of the arrival of Sinterklaas is at school, the Hollandse School in Singapore, and we'd all be standing around on the steps watching as Zwarte Piet cycled Sinterklaas in his rikshaw up the hill from Orchard Road. We'd all be wearing these home-made Zwarte Piet-caps out of cardboard and crepe paper, and shouting and dancing with glee.
Nowadays the children wear proper store-bought suits and hats. Much more durable - I remember our main worry while waiting for the saint to arrive was holding on to the caps while not squashing them.
'Sinterklaas' both refers to the festival of gift-giving on December 5th and to its main protagonist, Saint Nicholas, formerly bishop of Myra (Turkey) and patron saint of sailors, drunkards and unwed women. He is also the patron saint of Amsterdam (no surprise there) and the origin for the name "Santa Claus", though Sinterklaas does not actually have anything to do with Christmas other than being a Catholic saint (perish the thought!).
Somewhere in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, when all of Europe was really into inventing traditions, the Dutch decided to stake a claim to this saint. In the process, he got moved to Spain, outftted with a white horse and a steamboat to get him from Spain to the Netherlands every year) and accompanied by a bunch of henchmen called "Black Petes", about whom there is a big debate raging back home (and rightfully so, let's hope their looks go more chimney sweeper and less uniformly black in future, but I digress).
As the Dutch are both pragmatic and mercantile, Sinterklaas arrives about two to three weeks before the big day, and then hangs around until the big day, offering lots of photo ops, and product placement opportunities. The arrival of Sinterklaas is a nationally televised event. (YES.) A day or a week later, he will arrive in cities around the Netherlands and around the world.
Today, he arrived in Singapore, at the Marina Bay South Jetty. (Sinterklaas likes a bit of an entrance.) We took Blondie and Big Boy there, who were much more interested in pepernoten and balloons respectively, after which Blondie and I took the bus to the Hollandse Club for the real welcome, including gift and lunch.
Blondie, not enrolled in the Hollandse School and sadly lacking in Dutchie friends, took a bit of convincing to get into the proceedings. And she was deeply disappointed she did not get the opportunity to tell Sinterklaas and Black Pete that she thinks they are very nice people, and thank you for the pepernoten. But she loved the band.
We need to get her started on the Sinterklaasjournaal, if we want to save our Blondie for this Dutch tradition because in a few years, she's going to have to do the whole rhyming poking fun at people while giving them presents gig. Sinterklaas only gets better when you get older - the magic never ends.
ps. I know I missed yesterday. There were deadlines, melt-downs and a dinner party at my house. As it turns out, I am not superhuman after all.
psII. All photos taken with my phone and published without editing.