How this Dutch Jamaican Canadian Celebrates Sinterklaas!

Keeping traditions alive and making them our own.

Dutch Christmas is just around the corner! 

My Opa was the youngest of 7 children; the grandson of a famous Dutch preacher whose wife, Henrietta had 9 children. So, my Dutch family tree is vast and well documented.

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Despite this, our knowledge of our Dutch heritage was pretty scant as children.

See, my Opa sort of left his culture behind when he came to Canada. He did not really speak Dutch to his 7 children and there were only a few Dutch nursery rhymes when we kids.

What we did have, from time to time, was “Dutch Christmas”.

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One of my earliest memories, in fact, is being at a Sinterklaas Day celebration in Toronto. I was only about 3 but I remember a very large room with hundreds of people in it and “Pete” throwing stuff at us (little ginger cookies!). I believe it was a celebration put on by the DUCA, a Dutch Canadian co-op bank, which still throws a celebration every year.

As we got older and moved away from Toronto, our “Dutch Christmases” sort of fell to the way-side.

We did get a chocolate letter in our stockings every year and some Dutch ‘drop’ (candies) but it wasn’t until my Opa and Oma moved back to Holland in the mid-90s that the whole family started to really care about preserving our heritage.

Now, we try to celebrate Dutch Christmas with extended family every year. Our meals consist of traditional dutch meats, great bread, a potato soupand Dutch desserts.

This year, I have perfected home-made vla, which is a lovely light pudding made from milk and eggs. In Holland, you can find vla in the dairy section in cartons much like you’d find the milk! It’s very popular! 

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I also found a great recipe for almond cookies, Gevulde Koeken, which I know from the train station snack-shops in Holland. They are delightful! 

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I used to try to make stollen, a tradition Christmas bread (with almond paste in the middle, of course) but I wasn’t able to perfect it.

Every year, I try to buy chocolate letters and some other Dutch treats that I buy from the Dutch store on Dunlop St. in Barrie.

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We play Sinterklaas music and my in-laws have even come on board buying chocolate letters and Sint -themed books for our children. 

So, for us in Canada, Dutch Christmas isn’t quite like it is in the Netherlands but I’m doing my best to keep the heritage alive.

How do they celebrate in Holland? 

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The December 5th or 6th celebration of “Sinterklaas”, in the Netherlands, is traditionally the big gift-giving day while December 25th remains the quieter religious holiday.

Every year, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands mid November by boat. He and his helper, Zwarte Pete, visit school and hospitals until December 5th.

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From Wikipedia:

” Saint Nicholas’ Eve, 5 December, … is called Sinterklaasavond or Pakjesavond (“gifts evening”, or literally “packages evening”).

On the evening of 5 December, the main presents will somehow arrive, or a note will be “found” that explains where in house the presents were hidden by Zwarte Piet who left a burlap sack with them. Sometimes a neighbor will knock on the door (pretending to be a Zwarte Piet) and leave the sack outside for the children to retrieve; this varies per family. When the presents arrive, the living room is decked out with them, much as on Christmas Day in English-speaking countries. On 6 December, Sinterklaas departs without any ado, and all festivities are over.”

If you’re a Dutch Canadian, how do you celebrate? Do you have any Christmas traditions of your own? Let us know by commenting below, or on our Facebook page.